Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard, Scott MacDonald
Directed by Sam Mendes, based on the book by Anthony Swofford
IMDB Rating: 7.1
Based on a Marine’s own experiences, Jarhead brings the life the dreams of many Americans – Gyllenhaal finally being shipped off to war. All jokes aside, this is a very real story that shines a light on the other, less action-packed side to fighting for your country.
Just as a side note, don’t feel offended if I get some of the army terminology wrong in my review – I have no interest in the army, and I’m not an American, these are my excuses!
Based on his own book about his time at war, Jarhead follows Anthony Swofford (Gyllenhaal) as he enlists for the Marines. After making it through the ranks and becoming a sniper, him and his squadron are finally called upon to head out to the Gulf War as part of operation Desert Shield. They head out excited, finally ready to see some action and defend their country – what follows is months upon months of boredom as they sit there defending oil supplies in an uninhabited desert.
The main thing that this has going for it right from the off is the realism. With Jarhead based off Swofford’s own experiences in the desert, you do get the feel throughout that this is what it was (or is) like out there. On that point, this also feels like a really well written film. A lot of the dialogue between characters feels real, and was probably choreographed with the help of Swofford. Not only that, but the statements made by Gyllenhall’s Swofford, particularly at the beginning and end of the film, show great intelligence and knowledge of what these guys are going through.
The acting in Jarhead is solid, but not spectacular. Gyllenhaal does a good job because he is an excellent actor, but not because he understands what it’s like to be in the army. I guess what I’m trying to say is that he delivered a Gyllenhaal style performance, without much change for the circumstances his character found himself in. A similar argument can be layered on Jamie Foxx, however he did come across as someone more likely to be found in the army. The rest of the cast were all pretty solid as Marines, but there wasn’t exactly any incredible performances.
The directing in this film is really good! The esteemed Sam Mendes – Oscar winning director of American Beauty and director of James Bond films Skyfall and Spectre – uses many varying shots, giving an emotive, all-encompassing view of what Swofford is going through. Not only that, but he has also created a beautiful film, with some of the scenery almost jaw-dropping in its beauty, and that beauty expertly accentuated by Mendes’ work behind the camera.
Overall, this has to be one of my favourite army-related films. Jarhead has a level of realism that many other army movies (whether based on true stories or not) struggle to get across, creating a life-experience feel to the piece rather than just an action shoot-em-up. The line “I never got to fire my rifle” uttered by Swofford near the end of the film sums up Jarhead nicely.