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A movie directed by Sam Mendes

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A band of misfits misses

  • May 11, 2006
Pros: Good soporific

Cons: It is too dull to have any real cons

The Bottom Line: Who knew that war could be more dull than an English drawing room?

Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie''s plot.

Looking through the very helpful reviews of Jarhead, I noticed that even the reviewers who didn’t particularly like the film still rated it fairly high. I’m not sure why that is.

Tony Swofford joins the Marines. Swofford finishes boot camp. Swofford learns to be a sniper. Swofford goes to Iraq. Swofford is bored, goes a little off his rocker, gets back on the rocker, is bored again. Swofford gets a chance to use his training and is stopped at the last minute. Swofford goes home.

Jarhead is as straight forward and uncomplicated as the sentence structure of the brief synopsis. The film moves strictly chronologically with one dream sequence and some quick montages to show first why Swofford joined and what happened after the war ended. I got the sense that Sam Mendes (award winning director of the subtle and emotionally wrenching American Beauty) was like a casual browser through a bookstore. He picked up a book on war, flipped through it, put it back; a book on boot camp flipped through it, put it back; flipped through a book on military supply inefficiency and put it back. He did linger long on a book about sniping, and that might be one of the fatal flaws. (When I play first person shooter games with friends, I cannot abide being a sniper; it is boring as hell. I want to be a hunter, to chase after prey; I don’t want to sit and stare until something crosses my path). A story about someone trained to stay very still and not say anything but ‘fire, fire, fire’ very quietly is by its very nature not something the big screen needs. Swofford is obsessed with how boring the whole war experience is and Mendes does a fantastic job of exploring this aspect. But why would you pay money or spend 2 hours finding out how bored a group of misfits are; just go to a bar and watch—at least there you can get some libations.

A couple of people pointed to the propaganda aspect of the film. Frankly, I didn’t see it. Jarhead isn’t an anti-war film. The film did show that Swofford was affected by the carnage of one particular bombing, but this is far from propagandistic. His reaction was realistic. But keep in mind that very shortly after his grief over the carnage, he desperately seeks to kill someone. If this was a true anti-war flick, he would have refused the assignment and taken the consequences. If anything, this part was the most consistent and realistic part of the 2 hour yawn-fest.

The real Tony Swofford wrote the book on which the movie is based. His experiences were real and I don’t want to belittle them—nothing in the movie made me want to pick up a copy of his book, however. The poetic nonsense that all wars are different but all wars are the same is hardly a new sentiment. Also, the idea of all of the boredom and inefficiency is not new. Sam Watkins’s Co. Aytch is a hysterical exploration of exactly the same topics during the American Civil War. Jarhead’s story is derivative; the telling is derivative; it is anticlimactic and as dull as the main character says it is. At least in this last respect, it doesn’t advertise falsely.

Hollywood loves a war movie. They are big, they generally have lots of explosives, and it gives a chance for Hollywood pretty men to say cliché things. Yeah. Some war movies are moving (either because they are anti-war, or they are heroic; a society like ours needs both and gets both). Some are filled with special effects so that the mostly male audience will gape in awe at the spectacle. Jarhead doesn’t fall into either of these categories. It is not an anti-war diatribe, nor is it a recruitment piece.

Sam Mendes, Chris Cooper, Jamie Fox are all Oscar winners. Their talents were unnecessary for this film. Reviewers pointed at the cinematography, but I saw almost none to write home about. The outdoor scenes were flat and dull and the indoor scenes had nothing spectacular about them; to me, in all respects, the filming was pedestrian.

I see nothing at all to recommend the film. It isn’t even bad enough to be fun to make fun of.


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June 06, 2011
People who saw this movie ask me all the time "so thats all made up right how ur just walking around doing nothing?" You should see the looks on their horrified faces when i tell them thats about the truest movie about marine scout snipers daily lives they will ever see!
More Jarhead (2005 movie) reviews
review by . June 01, 2006
This film had received bad reviews from a political standpoint. I read a couple before I saw this film. They mostly didn't like it because.......what they say again............ O yeah,because it had no message or stance. To that I say good. It was refreshing to see a movie as a movie. I was glad that it was just a story, and there wasn't any motivation underneath it. That's not to say that the movie is one dimensional. There are many undertones, just none of which are attempting to reassert or defame …
review by . May 27, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
"Jarhead" is a marine expression that describes a recruit as an open vessel waiting to be filled by the commanders that be and by the haircut that makes the marine look like one. The movie is a recollection of the first Persian Gulf War, told from the point of view of Private Anthony Swofford (who wrote the book, but is played by Jake Gyllenhall) and his trek from marine recruit until the end of Operation Desert Storm. The war only lasted six weeks, and his contributions only four days, but the …
review by . March 08, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
Were intentions graded instead of product, then JARHEAD would be given 4 stars rather than 3, merely because it is one of the few films (so far) that shows the particular idiosyncrasies of that first Bush war, the DESERT SHIELD transforming into DESERT STORM. We have many films that document the mindset of the soldiers from the Civil War through the two World Wars, to Korean War to Vietnam War and each is different. JARHEAD is as much about the changes that have occurred in the American military …
review by . November 04, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard     Cons: ....     The Bottom Line: "Welcome to the jungle   It gets worse here everyday   Ya learn ta live like an animal   In the jungle where we play   Guns-n-Roses        God, in His infinite wisdom, had the forethought to let my brother join the Marines when we were between wars. He got out of the Marines just a few months before the casualty known …
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For his third feature film, British director Sam Mendes (AMERICAN BEAUTY) turns to the pages of Anthony Swofford's 2003 book on his experiences in the first Gulf War, and enlists William Broyles Jr.--a former Lieutenant who fought in Vietnam--to convert it into a screenplay. Mendes's film strays into FULL METAL JACKET territory as it opens, with young recruit Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) undertaking some rigorous basic training under the steely, watchful eye of Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jamie Foxx). Impressed, Sykes invites Swofford to join his team, and partners him with Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), ultimately taking them to Saudi Arabia to fight in the first Gulf War. But once they arrive in the punishing heat of the desert, the long wait for battle sends many of the Marines dangerously close to the brink of insanity. <br> <br> Drawing on the experience of acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) to help viewers get a close-up taste of the Marines' punishing life in the desert, Mendes's fil...

Based on Anthony Swofford’s excellentmemoirabout his experiences as a Marine Sniper in Gulf War I,Jarheadis a war movie in which the waiting is a far greater factor upon the characters than the war itself, and the build up to combat is more drama than what combat is depicted. To some viewers hoping for typical movie action, this will seem like a cruel joke. But it’s not. It’s just the story as it was written, and if you liked ...
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