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Overall Rating
3.3

Awesome: 16.78%
Worth A Look32.17%
Average: 27.27%
Pretty Bad: 11.89%
Total Crap: 11.89%

14 reviews, 59 user ratings


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Jarhead
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Neither a war movie nor an anti-war movie; it's a no-war movie."
5 stars

Anthony Swofford is here to tell us that war is hell even without the war. In his 2003 Gulf War memoir "Jarhead," Swofford wove an entertaining yarn about him and his fellow Marines sitting out in the sand, waiting for exhilarating and ennobling combat that, for them, never came.

Swofford's account is compelling despite the lack of war in his war story, because he's an insightful narrator, placing you inside the heads of men high on their own testosterone, werewolves howling for blood. Jarhead is about what happens when they don't get blood. What does the warrior do without a war to fight? What happens to all his gruelling training, designed to turn him into a ruthless and efficient life-taker?

Following this anti-narrative, the movie Jarhead is bound to disappoint those who want it to be a rousing let's-get-the-Iraqis epic and those who want it to be a clearcut horrors-of-war cautionary tale. It exists aside from politics. Its Marines are men who joined up, even the youngest of them, well before Saddam showed predatory intentions towards Kuwait. Despite its setting, it doesn't have much to do with the current war. One of the soldiers grouses that they're only there to protect corporate oil interests, only to be told that it doesn't matter -- they're here, they go where they're sent, it's part of the job description. Later, soldiers are told exactly what positive sound-bites to spout to visiting reporters, and when a couple of the men balk at this "censorship," their staff sergeant (Jamie Foxx) reminds them, in effect, that the Corps owns their asses.

Thus, Jarhead is only anti-anything insofar as it's honest about the experience of becoming a cog in a machine. As a depressive riff on Generation X's first war (there's an odd dream sequence set to Nirvana's mopey "Something in the Way"), it's exceptionally well-crafted. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) seems smitten with the subject of American disillusionment and its attendant melancholia. A despairing family man, a betrayed hit man, and now an eager young warrior thwarted in his desire to fight for his country -- Mendes is building himself quite the menagerie of emotionally stunted men for whom violence solves little. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Swofford with all the soulful torment he showed in Donnie Darko, somehow seeming sensitive even as he's baying for war and hooting along with the Wagner chopper-attack sequence in Coppola's Apocalypse Now. (I can't blame him there; the sequence remains one of the most complexly electrifying ever filmed.)

The movie spends some time looking back on previous war films, not just Apocalypse but The Deer Hunter and (in its opening boot-camp scenes) Full Metal Jacket. It makes sense, though, because these are the films that Swofford and his fellow grunts grew up with; they're part of what guided them into the service. When Swofford and his team of elite snipers arrive in the desert, though, they're given no outlet for their aggression. For them -- if not for other Gulf War vets whose stories lie outside this movie's margins -- the war becomes an extension of their sexual discontent. They waste many hours drinking, goofing around, obsessing about their possibly unfaithful girlfriends back home, and taking the matter of their immediate urges into their own hands. The Corps itself becomes a frigid girlfriend who won't put out after the elaborate cocktease of boot camp. Some of the men (including Swofford) go nuts from boredom, if only temporarily. Others, like Swofford's spotter and buddy Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), seem to have it together but might be less squared-away than they let on.

The theme of Jarhead is not war but denial and frustration. The climax is an absurdist anti-climax: Swofford finally gets orders to look through his sniper scope at an actual enemy. If he gets to pull the trigger, he'll finally be a true Marine; he'll also become a killer, something a man can never un-become. Marines, of course, are trained to kill, not to clean out desert latrines or get drenched in oil, both of which indignities we see Swofford and the others suffer.

Many war movies are about scared soldiers who don't want to kill, but only kill when they have to. "Jarhead" is about the soldiers who want to kill -- who saw those movies and fell for the feral glamour of combat. They don't know they're in a whole different kind of movie.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13464&reviewer=416
originally posted: 12/28/06 13:44:27
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User Comments

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
6/12/08 PAUL SHORTT AS MUCH AS IT SEEKS TO BREAK NEW GROUND, IT FEELS CALCULATED 1 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
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  04-Nov-2005 (R)
  DVD: 07-Mar-2006

UK
  13-Jan-2006 (15)

Australia
  09-Feb-2006




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