Jarhead Sam Mendes

Jarhead Sam Mendes
Jarhead, the most unusual war movie ever made during wartime, is an odd film in that it accomplishes what it sets out to do, but the more successful it is, the less entertaining it is to watch. Upon first viewing, Jarhead is notable for what it isn't: full of action, full of character arcs or development, even full of war. It's an occasionally beautiful, kind of droning look at the never beautiful, entirely monotonous life of an American Marine sent to Kuwait during the first Iraq war. Jake Gyllenhaal plays real life Marine Anthony Swofford (the film is based on his book), who is trained to be a killing machine and then not given the opportunity, resulting in a form of mental deterioration from desert-induced boredom. At first, the film is notable for the contrast it provides against our expectations — highlighted by an early scene in which soon-to-be-shipped out Marines take in Apocalypse Now with whooping enthusiasm. (Any anti-war film becomes a pro-war film when you show it to Marines, Mendes notes in his commentary.) Watching it again, it becomes evident how the Marines strip each person of their uniqueness: Swoff, wannabe career soldier Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), staff sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx), they all become less and less themselves, more and more mindless Marines for whom technology is outrunning their own war efforts. It accomplishes what director Mendes is trying to do — he denies claims that the film is apolitical, but neglects to comment on the film's politics. In fact, the absence is the politics here: what America does to its citizenry in the name of protecting others is violence of its own. Jarhead makes that point with occasional poignancy, but it's not a compelling enough reason to put it on the shelf with other anti-war classics. On DVD, the film is merely fleshed out in various ways: Swofford has elaborate fantasy sequences, and more deleted scenes (including uncut, in-character "media" interviews) simply hammer home the non-point. Plus: commentaries by Mendes and Swofford with screenwriter William Broyles, Jr. (Universal)
James Keast