'Jarhead' Review **** 121305
Theatrical Review (2005)

The Work = ****
'Jarhead' is director Sam Mendes’s third film and it is, like his previous two films 'American Beauty' and 'Road to Perdition', a solid, well made, feature. 'Jarhead' is based on the autobiographical book of the same name written by Anthony Swofford. The film, like the book is about Swofford’s experiences during the first Gulf War. It tells the story of soldiers trained to the point of obsession and madness.

They, train and train, and prepare for war. They are told of the intense combat they will be in, the casualties they will deal with and the ferocious opposition they will face every single step of the way. They are sent overseas to the hot, dry dessert and are trained some more. The more they are trained and prepared for combat the more likely it becomes that the soldiers will never see it.

'Jarhead' is a strange film in that it shows a group of soldiers who grow to desperately want to see combat because it might be a release from the madness of their routine. The more they train in the desert the more they begin to realize that they may never actually see any of the combat they have been preparing for. I have not read Swofford’s book but am told it is pretty faithful to it. I will say that a lesser filmmaker would have added in action sequences and it is to Mendes’s credit that 'Jarhead' stays engaging without dumbing down the material.

Swofford is played by Jake Gyllenhaal who is great in the lead role. He is surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast including: Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris Cooper and others who seem to through themselves into their roles and make the characters seem real and fleshed out with a minimal of backstory. In this case it is especially impressive because there is almost no footage of the soldiers outside of training.

Where the movie goes and what happens I will leave for you to see. 'Jarhead' is a good film and it accomplishes its task almost too well. I felt the soldiers restlessness. I felt their growing madness of routine and was engaged in the story. At the same time I have to admit that I came out of the movie with a flat sort of melancholy feeling. Maybe that was the point. I was moved by what they went through but must admit that I am recommending it more for the skill of those that made it and the story they are telling than how enthralling or moving 'Jarhead' is. Recommended.


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