Directed by Sam Mendes.
Written by William Broyles, Jr. Based on the book by
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Lucas Black, and Jamie
Release Year: 2005
Review Date: 11/06/05
The trailer was cool ("JE-SUS WALKS...JE...sus...WALKS!"),
the cast is loaded, the director has pedigree..."Jarhead" was on my
list for quite a while now. But there's just enough missing
that I don't think it will be around for awards season.
Based on the autobiographical tale of a
soldier that took part in Operation Desert Shield--and then,
Operation Desert Storm--"Jarhead" sits somewhere between dramedy and
black comedy in its retelling of what it might be like to be a
soldier in a war where almost NOTHING ever really happens.
Private Swofford (the book author is played by Jake Gyllenhaal), a
reasonably smart guy that decided joining the Marines was the way to
go over attending college, joins the Corps with the hope that one
day he can make a difference, but by the time we meet him he seems
to be a bit like the guy sitting two cubes over that is just going
through the motions--Swoff doesn't seem to have the ambition to be
anything more than a pencil pusher and that suits him just fine.
Just fine...until he meets Staff Sergeant
Sykes (Jamie Foxx), who invites Swoff to try out for an elite sniper
unit that takes only eight new members out of a crowded field.
The tryouts, the camaraderie and the sniper rifle itself open
Swoff's eyes to what being a soldier is all about...and when he
makes the unit and they are asked to serve in Operation Desert
Shield, Swoff seems truly down with the program.
And then, the U.S. troops arrive...and
wait...and wait...and wait. And Swoff goes slowly insane
waiting for something to happen.
I saw this flick with The Professional,
Gordon Stokes, and my friend Erin, who came to town to chill out and
present at a conference in town. Erin commented and we all
agreed that films like this aren't made very often because you
expect Swoff to get off the plane and fight a Gulf War that is long,
and brutal, and violent, with thousands of casualties. If
anything else, you expect that we'll get only the glimpse of the
fighting that Swofford took part in, expecting the film version of a
book that featured a lot of action, or a fairly high number of
casualties. Instead, you get the war as it really was...much
ado about nothing, protecting "our interest" (oil, through and
through) while seeing about as many soldiers get killed through
friendly fire as through actual wartime casualties. "Jarhead"
is excellent as a reference point to what it might be like to be a
cop in the real world (i.e., paperwork, lead follow-ups,
stakeouts...but really, a shootout only comes a few times in a
career) or maybe a volunteer firefighter in your hometown.
It's 99% dead time and 1% action, and while our movies always seem
to focus on that 1%, why not profile what it might be like to be a
"soldier" but the most important thing you are protecting is your
And, as a movie, director Sam Mendes ("Road
to Perdition" and "American Beauty") strikes a good balance
between comedy and drama in these sequences as Swoff and his
cohorts--including his spotter Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) and his
Texas-bred teammate Kruger (Lucas Black)--do anything they can to
stave off complete boredom. At least Mendes keeps your
attention for the first hour or so of complete boredom...and, this
is my only real issue with "Jarhead", that it takes boredom for so
long that I found myself a little bored at the Marines' boredom, as
funny as it is to watch the men endure scorpion cage matches and
tossing the football around while running around in their chemical
biosuits. The film's tone goes from boring to psycho in the
matter of a couple of scenes (you have to see it to know what I
mean), and then we finally get to see what happens when actual
fighting breaks out and by that time the movie lost some of my
It's not for a lack of strong performances,
though. Gyllenhaal continues to impress and Sarsgaard made me
forget his somewhat-shitty role in this fall's
another solid supporting performance. Foxx is good enough in
the sergeant role, and the Marine teammates, like Fowler (Evan
Jones), help fill your standard-issue one-sided male teammate roles.
The cameos are not as good, but it's always great to see Mr. David
Palmer himself, Dennis Haysbert, show up late in the film even if
Chris Cooper was dogging it with a subpar performance.
"Jarhead" is also a great looking film and
it has a great soundtrack to boot. It's just too bad that when
I left the theater, I was thinking "good film" and not "great film."
Certainly, though, Sam Mendes has made three pretty good films and
I'm looking forward to whatever he does next.
Rating: $9.50 Show
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard