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Jarhead Movie Poster


Genre: War Drama
Rated: R
Directed by
: Sam Mendes
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard, Jacob Vargas, Lucas Black, Chris Cooper

Released by: Universal Pictures

In Short: This film's slow cinematic journey painfully reflects its theme: the boredom of war.

Not Jarring Enough
"Jarhead" Redefines War as a Bore

By Jenny Peters

After all the hype surrounding Jarhead—it was talked about much that director Sam Mendes had done it again, repeating his Oscar-winning success of "American Beauty"—the actual experience of seeing the film was extremely disappointing. It's the fact-based story of a "Jarhead" (the moniker that Marines proudly call each other) named Anthony Swofford. His war was Desert Storm, the first American-Iraqi conflict in the early Nineties. The film explores familiar themes of the military experience, beginning with the obligatory boot camp terrors and rolling into the freshly trained Marine battalion being posted to the Kuwait desert and eventually across the Iraq border into clashes with Saddam Hussein's troops.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Swofford, giving a believable and compelling performance as a reluctant recruit who eventually evolves into a crack sniper. His fellow Marines—Jamie Foxx as a lifer staff sergeant and Peter Sarsgaard as his shooting partner—also come off as the real deal. It's not the performances that make "Jarhead" something of a slog. It is Mendes' decision to make a film about the boredom of war that turns it into a deliberately and incredibly slow cinematic journey.

In fact, this is a war movie with very little combat. It's all about the guys trapped in the bleakness of the desert, and the various ways they try to amuse themselves as the days and months trickle by, without any actual engagement of the enemy. Mendes certainly knows how to create visually striking moments like with the igniting of the oilfields and the consequent darkness and smoke-filled world, an almost visceral experience that leaps off the screen.

Those visual moments redeem the movie, which otherwise would be just one dull moment of men waiting to test their mettle piled on another boring moment of men not quite getting to engage in a real battle. The irony is obvious, especially when the worst moment in the Marines' six-month deployment is braving a storm of friendly fire. The futility of war is delineated accurately, but spending two painfully slow hours solely for that reason just isn't worth the time.

(Updated 01/22/08 NJ)

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