Fri 4 Nov 2005
No, Jake. That isn’t standard military attire.
Welcome to the suck.
That’s the tagline for the newest Gulf War movie, “Jarhead.” Based on the autobiography of Anthony Swofford and brought to the screen by Sam Mendes, “Jarhead” is about Swofford’s experiences becoming a Marine scout sniper and the trials and tribulations involved with Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The tagline is catchy and there’s a big part of me that wishes I could use it to describe the movie.
But I can’t and so I won’t.
For a few months now, I have been eagerly awaiting the release of “Jarhead”. The trailer was engaging and a movie with Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper can’t be all bad. And while Mendes may be best known for 1999’s over-hyped “American Beauty”, I prefer to give him credit for marrying Kate Winslet.
All that aside, one thing should be made clear that is not so crystal in the trailers. This is not a war movie.
Sure, it deals with the Gulf War and there are some bombs dropped. But the point and focus of the film is about Swofford (Gyllenhaal) and his platoon (which includes Foxx and Sarsgaard) as they become a unit and have to endure months of boredom awaiting a declaration of war with Iraq. If you are looking for a shoot ‘em up, go rent something by John Woo – Well, don’t rent “Windtalkers”. Or “Broken Arrow”. Or “Paycheck” … look, just don’t rent anything after “Face/Off”.
Back to the suck. Well, I suppose the negative aspects of “Jarhead” have to do with the pacing. From what I was told of the book, it really is a collection of anecdotes about what it was like to be a Marine at that time. As such, while most of the events are important and integral to building the complete portrayal, you may find yourself glancing at the display on your muted cell phone to see how long you’ve been in the dark a row behind the tall guy with the ‘fro.
Aside from pacing, “Jarhead” distances itself from its tagline. Gyllenhaal provides another good performance, though I personally could have done without the amount of male nudity Mendes delivers. Yes, it’s a double standard ladies. Welcome to the suck.
Prior to actually watching the film, I was predicting Gyllenhaal would get an Oscar nomination for this role. Sadly, I don’t think there will be too many award nominations coming the way of “Jarhead”. Usually I’m pretty good at Nostredamizing these things but it’s a bit early to release something and have it get remembered and while everything about this movie is done really well, it isn’t necessarily amazing. As for Gyllenhaal, like I said, his performance is good. But the script doesn’t give anyone those juicy lines that scream Academy Award. So no Oscar for anyone here.
In supporting roles, Peter Sarsgaard again provides a nicely woven character to provide the buddy/foil to the main character. Will someone please get him a starring role! Jamie Foxx was excellent and continues to prove that the Oscar win was not a fluke.
Though that reminds me that I’m bummed about two things. 1) That Foxx cannot take part in “Stealth 2: Another Dud” (does telling you he dies in the first one ruin anything?) and 2) There is no plan to make a “Stealth 2” … that I know of.
Now I’m reminded of another thing the trailer misconstrues … sort of. The amazing and brilliant Chris Cooper has about 97 seconds of screen time. I didn’t time it like the presence of Julia Stiles in “The Bourne Identity”, but it was something close to that. He’s great of course, but I wanted more.
Overall, “Jarhead” provides what seems to be a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be a Marine. It reminds me that I never want to join the armed forces because I don’t like to be ordered around. Also, I’m a pansy.
If you are a military movie buff, this is for you. If you have been waiting for a movie to take away Jake Gyllenhaal’s shirt, this is for you. If you need to be reminded why you haven’t enlisted to serve your country, this is for you.
All that being said, “Jarhead” gets a 3 out of 5 from me. While the review was low-key, I think I’m just still reconciling my expectations with the actual film. Forgetting the meandering pacing, this is an excellent movie and probably the best the multi-plexes have to offer until awards season kicks off fully in December. Take that pull of chuck pucker at the shower scene to help you through it, or if you have ovaries and a non-mullet, down the beverage afterwards. I need another just remembering that scene …
UPDATE: I just read some reviews on “Jarhead” criticizing the movie for not giving its side to the war. Let me politely retort, “Screw you paid movie critics!” Just because this isn’t another anti-administration picture doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a voice or perspective. It just doesn’t bludgeon the audience’s head with left-handed rhetoric. Don’t confuse my anger with a particular bent, I just don’t think every piece of artistic material dealing with a potentially political subject has to lean either way. Objectivity isn’t always a bad thing.