Jarhead is the third outing for English director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) and is based on Anthony Swofford’s book of the same name. It is a first hand account of one soldier’s experience in the 1991 Gulf War. It is an intelligent and powerful war drama that gives a rare insight into a marine’s life during modern day conflict.Jarhead (a term used within the ranks to describe a marine) follows Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal), a third generation soldier, through his eye opening experiences in boot camp and on to a soul destroying stint in the desert during the Gulf War where boredom, loneliness and madness turn out to be equally damaging than anything the enemy might serve up.
Swofford is a scout sniper in a small unit of confused, frustrated and dysfunctional young men led by Sgt Sykes (Jamie Foxx). Unlike most of the marines depicted in Jarhead, Sykes is in this game for life and truly loves his job. Swofford is joined by Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) as his spotter, a soldier with little else to live for and a calm demeanor that slowly unravels as his time in the desert drags on.
It is an exceptionally well acted movie from the whole cast with Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard being the standouts. Both of these actors put in powerful performances of two soldiers with very different personalities who both harbour inner turmoil.
Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins have created some stunning visuals in Jarhead, from the baron white desert landscapes to the burning oilfields and the resulting black rain, they manage create beauty out of such hellish environments. It is also a credit to both Mendes and screenwriter William Boyles Jr for making such an interesting film when you consider that its primary focus is the boredom of this particular conflict.
Critics have accused Mendes taking too neutral of a viewpoint in Jarhead. But this is the movie’s greatest strength. Jarhead does not attempt to make great revelations on the bigger picture of war and the politics behind it.Jarhead is simply one man’s account of his experience in the Gulf and it thankfully does not preach for or against the conflict on which it is based and instead leaves that decision in the hands of the audience.