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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 Erik Childress

"A Soldier’s Boring Story"
3 stars

The era of warfare seems to change with every conflict. Strategies such as the walking in formation into battle from the American Revolution gave war to charging in the Civil War and eventually into the deadly sneaky guerilla warfare of Vietnam. Military practice making perfect got scarce in the 80s with the whole Granada business and by the time we got to Desert Storm, the era of the soldier was pretty much over. That’s certainly the prevailing theme of Jarhead, based on the exploits of one such soldier who sat and waited for his big moment to make a difference only to come home without a medal or a confirmed kill. That’s a nice summation of what one legendary comedian called “the Persian Gulf Distraction”. Unfortunately for Jarhead, all it has is the summation and nothing more. Even worse, you could just go rent Three Kings which is not just a vastly superior film but says just as much if not more about this “war” in any fifteen minutes you could pick out than Jarhead does in all of its two hours.

Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) tells his drill sergeant in a moment of frustrated fury that the reason he joined the Marines is because he “got lost on the way to college.” A great comeback, but when the road is paved with a lackluster childhood and little money sometimes that’s your only option. Drifting through basic training, “Swoff” is presented with the opportunity to join the sniper squad, a job he finds a special talent for, by career Sgt. Siek (Jamie Foxx). When they are shipped off to Saudi Arabia during the Iraqi opposition of Kuwait, Swoff and his platoon are eager to get their first confirmed kill.

Anyone who knows anything about Desert Shield and, its spinoff, Desert Storm, is that action was pretty hard to find. They’ve got the supplies, the water to constantly hydrate and the warnings that the enemy could gas them at any time. But what are they doing other than guarding the oil wells and masturbating? It’s nothing but a waiting game out there in the heat and losing one’s sanity is a worthy tradeoff to losing their life.

Jarhead makes a point in drawing a line between the soldier and the politics right away. Opinions are quashed before they can begin to take shape and no one is allowed to open their mouths to the media without smiley rainbows coming out in support of their mission. But this extends to the filmmakers too who are either working on censory overload or clearly have no opinion on this moment of time. If all they set out to do was present Gulf War I as it was; a waiting game with virtually zero resolution I’m sure a documentarian’s approach would have sufficed instead of the slickness of your average war picture.

We can make the leap that movies have glamorized war in the same manner that the media has downplayed the casualties in favor of trumped-up stories of heroism and those which shed a bad light on our soldiers when we’re feeling guilty for our participation. The glory-boy syndrome gets full play when the troops are subjected to the Valkyries scene in Apocalypse Now in camp and then sit down to watch a more sobering aftermath (The Deer Hunter) while in the desert (although there’s a rude awakening on that tape to remind them of what many have left back home.) It’s ballsy to remind an audience of the war films we’ve aged with (the opening scenes are Full Metal Jacket-lite), particularly when they are films which at least had clear ideas about the war experience.

Gyllenhaal, Fox and particularly Peter Sarsgaard as the most disciplined of the soldiers are all solid in their roles. The film is polished, looks great and moves along rather quickly. All kinda like the “war” itself. But so what? I don’t need to know Sam Mendes’ politics, but as a filmmaker he needs to communicate why he made this film. It can’t just be another about the effect war has on its soldiers. That’s been done to death and any of the psychotic breaks had in the film are short-lived from scene-to-scene. When a “war” film’s only casualties come afterwards or tragically in boot camp, there’s a middleground that unmistakably needs to be touched upon. If Bill Hicks’ statistics were accurate and only 79 Americans died over there, is there such thing as a hero when such a number might be called an “acceptable loss” by the rank and file? Does that mean (as Hicks suggested) that 80 soldiers would have then sufficed rather than the 500,000 who eventually ended up there? Attempts at Kubrickian irony fail since it appears to have no target and even the thematic overtones I bequeathed to it (which apparently is different than Mendes’) are muddled when scenes of go-go gung-ho attitudes rub out the heartrending poignancy of Sarsgaard’s late and honest breakdown.

Vietnam was such a tragic period in history that other than a few films like The Deer Hunter and Coming Home shortly after, it wasn’t until a decade later, starting with Platoon that we started coming to terms with what happened over there. By comparison, Desert Storm is ancient history and we didn’t need to wait 14 years for a film like Jarhead while were already going through Iraq II: Electric Boogaloo (“bigger, bloodier, and oilier”) unless it was a direct (or indirect) comment on the current state of affairs much like George Clooney just accomplished with Good Night And Good Luck or David O. Russell’s prescient work has for six years running. Jarhead is like the prologue of Heaven’s Gate; a long and unnecessary setup to the real meat of the story which is Three Kings.

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originally posted: 11/04/05 16:08:06
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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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