|Unique, well-constructed war film|
In this movie based on his war memoirs, Swofford is played by Jake Gyllenhaal of “Donnie Darko” and “The Day After Tomorrow” fame. Swofford is a young man who “got lost on the way to college” and finds himself in the Marine Corps. Soon after boot camp he, along with fellow Marine Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) and Sgt. Siek (Jamie Foxx), is sent to Kuwait as a sniper to help defend against Iraq’s aggression.
Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Swofford, a man who is going through intense emotional changes because of this mysterious war, is a strong addition to his already impressive resume. But the real standouts of the cast are the supporting players: Peter Sarsgaard and Jamie Foxx. Both add depth to the evaluation and examination of the cast of characters accompanying them on their journey.
Though it is bound to be compared to many other dramatic war movies, “Jarhead” knows what it is and isn’t afraid to show us. The film is a study of Swofford and his fellow soldiers, not a deconstruction of the political and ethical forces driving the war. As Troy eloquently puts it, “F--- politics.”
That is not to say to film is without its powerful scenes and moments that makes one question the effects of war. The film even more distinctly separate itself from previous war movies by paying its own kind of tribute to a highly-regarded classic. Ready to be deployed to the desert, the Marines watch “Apocalypse Now.” As Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” sounds through their theater and the helicopters rain destruction down on the Vietnamese, our soldiers are jumping and hollering with an almost uncontrollable excitement and enthusiasm. This, as well as an underlying goal between the soldiers to kill a human, provides a powerful insight into the human psyche during their period of non-combat.
In the translation from book to film, director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition”) has added his own visual touch to the story, making for one of the more powerfully visualized war films. By using heavy computer effects, (they are usually not noticeable though can be a touch distracting when they are), Mendes has created a stunningly accurate setting for the film.
The highlight comes when the soldiers stumble across the oil fields that have been set aflame. With fire spurting from the ground and thick smoke that blocks out the sun, this hellish setting is a remarkable image that will stay with you.
Even though “Jarhead” won’t be able to escape comparisons to previous war films, it creates its own identity by being a different kind of war film. By focusing on the soldiers without taking sides and playing the political game, this film has been crafted into a powerful and meaningful tale of these young men fighting their war.
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