Sunday, February 19, 2006

Movie Review: Jarhead

Jarhead is not your typical war movie. Based on marine Anthony Swofford's bestselling book about his training, pre-Desert Storm experiences in Saudi Arabia, and fighting in Kuwait, it is more about waiting for action than action itself. If you go to see this movie expecting lots of action and mayhem, then you will be disappointed. Jarhead starts out the way a lot of war movies do -- with Swofford going into a basic training program where psychological manipulation are the order of the day. We expect the movie to follow along in the normal cliches -- but it doesn't. From what I have read, this movie is a very realistic portrayal of what it is like to be in the US marines. Swofford is part of a sniper group who develop an "intimate" relationship with their gun and they, and their fellow soldiers, are primed to go into action to kill the enemy. But when they get to Camp Pendleton on a mission to protect the Saudi Arabian oil fields, most of their time there is spent waiting for action and we see the frustrations, anxieties, and tensions build between the men. Through the eyes of Swofford we experience the way that soldiers become scarred more by the dehumanizing process of getting the men ready for war than by the war itself. There is no romanticising feel good buddy movie here. Another thing that makes this war movie different to others in the genre is that it is apolitical. There is no preaching about the rightness or wrongness of war. We are just shown what it is like and what happens and, although there are sublte undercurrents of political and moral issues, the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions and place their own interpretation on what is presented. This approach places this movie above the crowd and provides a genuinely fresh and confronting experience about war that refuses to glamorise it. Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent as Swofford and the cinematography is, at times, stunning - particularly in the case of the oil fields on fire during one scene when they were lit by Sadam Hussein's army. Jarhead is an important movie in the way it brings home the reality of the nature of conflict in modern warfare and some of the effects it has on the young soldiers who are placed in a situation that no one should have to suffer. The wars in Iraq will have a psychological effect for many decades to come. It's a tough, demanding, devastating film to watch but well worth the time and money to do so. My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review 'The sum of the movie is devastating. One takes out of it a sense that the human cost of our endless adventure in Iraq is going to be incalculable, perhaps catastrophic -- a psychological time bomb that will be exploding for decades to come.' - William Arnold/Seattle Post-Intelligencer Negative Review 'Jarhead virtually begins with a rip-off of the basic-training sequence that opens Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket."' - Jonathan Rosenbaum/Chicago Reader Content Warning Pervasive language, some violent images and strong sexual content

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