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Overall Rating

Awesome: 16.67%
Worth A Look31.94%
Average: 27.08%
Pretty Bad: 12.5%
Total Crap: 11.81%

14 reviews, 60 user ratings

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by EricDSnider

"What if they gave a war and nobody got to kill anyone?"
4 stars

War changes people. That fact is evident in real life, yet rarely expressed in movies until the 1970s, when films about Vietnam began to emerge. The perceived unrighteousness of that war made the fact that it screwed up its veterans all the more poignant: At least, Hollywood seemed to say, the soldiers who were scarred and damaged in World War II had been fighting for a just cause.

The Persian Gulf War of 1990 was neither lengthy, devastating nor controversial enough to inspire films the way Vietnam did, and it came at a time when a new attitude was sweeping the nation: ironic detachment. Hence films like "Three Kings," and now "Jarhead," a humor-tinged but ultimately haunting drama that examines the psychology of a Gulf War veteran as carefully and insightfully as any film has done.

Based on LCpl. Anthony Swofford's autobiography detailing his stint in the Gulf, "Jarhead" stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Swofford, depicted as a directionless but highly intelligent 20-year-old from a broken home who joins the Marines in 1989 because he has nothing else to do. The military is in Swofford's blood, perhaps literally: He was conceived in 1969 while his Marine father was on a weekend pass in Hawaii.

Swofford is recruited to a team of snipers, led by Staff Sgt. Siek (Jamie Foxx) as a raucous band of brothers who participate in the usual ultra-macho boys-will-be-boys jackassery while learning how to kill their enemies.

When Saddam invades Kuwait and the troops are sent to the Middle East to see what happens next, Swofford and his fellow soldiers are itching to fight, bursting with equal parts testosterone and patriotism. One soldier, a cynical Texan troublemaker named Kruger (Lucas Black), says the war is all about oil and that the U.S. gave Saddam his weapons in the first place. Kruger is shouted down and the matter isn't discussed again. (Indeed, modern viewers looking for "Jarhead" to make comments on the current situation in Iraq will be stymied: This is an intentionally non-political film.)

The soldiers follow the line of thinking promoted by Lt. Col. Kazinski (Chris Cooper), who rallies them with talk of kicking some Iraqi behind. These are men who, in one scene, watch "Apocalypse Now" the way some people watch "Rocky Horror Picture Show," reciting the lines and singing along with "Ride of the Valkyries."

The Vietnam War plays a major part in the way these men think. Swofford's father was a veteran, and while we don't know the parentage of the other snipers, we know they were born at a time when Vietnam overshadowed most of American life. Movies like "Apocalypse Now" have shown them how thrilling war can be (which means they kind of missed the point), and now it's their chance to create their own history. When a helicopter flies over their heads blasting music by The Doors, Swofford says bitterly, "That's Vietnam music. Can't we get our own [expletive] music?"

The answer is no. Even when, after 175 days of idling, Desert Storm begins, it's over quickly, and ground troops like Swofford's crew play a comparatively small part. Most of their days are spent training, sitting around and, um, pleasuring themselves -- a clear metaphor for these soldiers' military experience: putting forth a lot of effort without actually accomplishing anything.

The kicker is that, even though most of the danger he faces is in the form of "friendly fire" (i.e., stupid accidents), Swofford, along with his embittered sniping partner Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), winds up with a psyche almost as scarred as if he'd seen heavy action. Played by Jake Gyllenhaal in his first truly grown-up, completely three-dimensional role, Swofford sees pointlessness and futility at every turn, always training but never getting to experience the catharsis of putting his training to work. He warms the bench for the whole game, yet winds up bruised as if he'd played.

This is director Sam Mendes' third film, after "American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition," two films also marked by grace and introspection amid depressing, deadly circumstances. It's noteworthy that Swofford's post-war life gets almost no screen time, yet his wartime experience is portrayed so vividly and efficiently -- not a scene wasted in William Broyles Jr.'s screenplay -- that we know just how it's going to be when he gets home. He'll be a changed man, and he'll being asking himself why.

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originally posted: 11/04/05 10:15:25
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User Comments

10/30/16 morris campbell good acting good production values dull as dishwater 2 stars
6/22/10 Aaron Two of my grandparents and my uncle were mariens, in every way this movie is total garbage 1 stars
12/19/09 Jeff Wilder Good not great. Pacing off. But characters well defined. 4 stars
7/08/09 *Holy_J@lapeno* A straight foward movie about how desert shield/storm really was. I wanted more sniping!!!! 4 stars
8/19/08 Shaun Wallner This ones ok. 3 stars
4/25/08 Karrie Millheim I thought it was a good story and the guys are hot 4 stars
4/22/08 mr.mike Did they think being a marine would be a picnic? 3 stars
8/06/07 Hello Stranger takes another view on war. and it works. a bit tedious though 4 stars
4/19/07 Stevo UK Good picture of the horrors of war, but it was supposed to be a movie. 3 stars
12/14/06 Phil M. Aficionado Really compelling as a "slice of life as war" portrayal; excellent production values, too 4 stars
11/05/06 A Concerned Citizen It's the one war film that describes the war in it's entirety, similar to Full Metal Jacket 5 stars
11/02/06 Patsyc Not as good as I thought it would be. It was interesting to see the life of a marine there 3 stars
10/25/06 Drew G Great movie, not sure what type of people the haters are... 5 stars
10/13/06 TJ Absolutely sucked. I saw it last night for the first time. A total waste.Don't bother! 1 stars
9/21/06 Chris Hately Great film. Oh, and Bill Hicks is the best comedian of our times. 4 stars
9/14/06 Mara Frost Good movie, Jake Gyllenhaal gives the best performance of his career 4 stars
9/12/06 matt pretty funny, good visuals 4 stars
5/28/06 daveyt story about tedium and pointlessness, told likewise. Jake was good though 3 stars
4/27/06 jana newton I loved this movie 5 stars
4/27/06 Indrid Cold I guess the Gulf War was boring and pointless, but so is the movie about it. 3 stars
4/25/06 Ken Muir Too much needless profanity. Vacuous content. 1 stars
4/24/06 Ry no story.... 2 stars
4/17/06 Jung Texican Decent documentary maybe, instead a film made hollow by its empty story 2 stars
3/24/06 mike waste of time, movie about garbage and marines being gay! not cool at all 1 stars
3/09/06 Wiseman Watch Saving Private ryan instead, I really regret I bought this movie. 1 stars
3/08/06 Katie Interesting look at the life of soldiers. 3 stars
2/06/06 gladys it was a waste of time..boring!! 1 stars
1/13/06 cooler mendes was always overrated and this proves it 1 stars
1/08/06 Bob Great performances, some fantastic imagery and a nice new take on war. 5 stars
12/11/05 J.K. Claire The best movie ever about war and mind. 5 stars
12/08/05 Sharon This movie was degrading to the military. My husband is a veteran and was appalled. 1 stars
12/05/05 B. McDaniel This film sucked - Don't bother 2 stars
11/30/05 M. Ritter, Marine Wife Marines sacrifice so much for us, what a slap in the face to Marines and their wives! 1 stars
11/29/05 Phlyer2 Discredits Brave Martines-Shameful! 1 stars
11/28/05 Elizabeth S Absolutely riveting, and Saarsgard should get a supporting nom. 5 stars
11/25/05 baseball-nut Not a bad movie....I'd suggest you wait and rent it at Blockbuster! 3 stars
11/24/05 Dustin Geist It was good half way through but after about half way the interesting just dropped. 1 stars
11/23/05 Jessica Holland I absolutely loved this movie, i think it is great for people to see!!!! 5 stars
11/22/05 Kurtis J. Beard Cooper and Foxx are fantastic. Sarsgaard great as usual. Screenplay blows. 4 stars
11/21/05 Brianna Schroeter I came out wondering what it was I missed. I'm not sure if I did. It's just too easy. 3 stars
11/18/05 Judy it's really good, just not for those people that only go to watch people get blown up. 4 stars
11/17/05 MrsVoorheesBabyBoy Slow and Bloody Boring 1 stars
11/14/05 Lanie Richardson it was different, but definitely worth a trip to the theater. 4 stars
11/13/05 Todd a very different kind of war movie, but well worth a look. 5 stars
11/12/05 "K" More Anti-American BS from the director of the highly anti-American "American Beauty" 1 stars
11/11/05 wes excellent view of what marine life is actually like... a little exaggerated at times 5 stars
11/10/05 Sean COMPLETE PILE OF CRAP 1 stars
11/09/05 Linden Groves not for friends of W 4 stars
11/08/05 Jeff Hella fucking good 5 stars
11/07/05 jcjs so so; ain't no DeerHunter, Apacolypse, Platoon, Born on 4th.pretty tame barely 'WorthALook 4 stars
11/07/05 bentable zzzzzzzzzzzzzz 2 stars
11/07/05 KingNeutron Disturbing and thought-provoking. 4 stars
11/07/05 Eric Weisman,M.D. I'm surprised this one played in our local theater, I loved it. 5 stars
11/07/05 Zigga This movie was tight man! don't watch it if your ONLY expecting a Blackhawk down paprt 2 5 stars
11/07/05 Naka Nope. 2 stars
11/06/05 othree Prob a good book someone made 2 movie, funny, kinda late gettin ready 4 war their never in 4 stars
11/06/05 Marine Family This movie was awful! It portrayed Marines as idiots who had no purpose nor conviction. 1 stars
11/06/05 jeff no plot, good acting, dont really c the point of this movie!! i recommend it 4 stars
11/05/05 John Gordon What a let down, clearly written by someone who hated the Marines, Great for anit war movem 1 stars
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  04-Nov-2005 (R)
  DVD: 07-Mar-2006

  13-Jan-2006 (15)


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