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I was reluctant to see this movie. As a veteran of Desert Shield/Storm,
I spent my first 90 days in-theater in the Weapons Co of A Swofford's
Battalion. I later was moved to the 1st Bn of 7th Marines, but having
been in the same unit for some of the same time I felt I could offer
readers a unique perspective on the film's accuracy.
From a purely aesthetic perspective I thought the film was well done. The acting was very good, and the script was well written, witty, and accurate. The actors were well suited to their roles. My personal preference for a good plot would have been disappointed were it not for my personal interest in the film. In my opinion this film is an outstanding dramatic-documentary, so adjust your expectations accordingly. If you are expecting a driving plot line and all the accompanying dramatic tension, then I think you will be disappointed (as many whose comments I heard exiting the theater certainly were). But if you think of it as a chance to take a glimpse into a point in history, and see it as some of those who lived it did, then I think you will be impressed.
Many people may think that the obscenity of some of the interactions was overdone for effect. But whatever anyone's personal judgment of that behavior, that is the closest portrayal of Marines (or soldiers) being themselves I have yet seen on screen. Marines are vulgar. They do watch porn. They do fight among themselves. They do both hate, and love, the Marine Corps. There is an omni-present anti-war conspiracy theorist. The do say ridiculous things. There are some who are over the line. The reality of the Marine Infantry is that things happen there every day that are well beyond conventional sensibility, and which strain credibility to the average civilian. It's all true. I love the Marine Corps and I am still serving - I don't have an axe to grind. It just happens to be true.
Are there parts of the film that I find incredible? Yes. But they are not the essential things. There is a scene, it's even in the trailer, in which everyone is firing their weapon into the air. I wasn't there, but I can't fathom a breach of discipline on that scale. I can't say it's impossible, but I am doubtful. But whether it's true or not is not important. At its essence this is a film about Marines, how they adjusted to the Marine Corps, each other, and a war. If there are a few incredible details, then we can just be grateful that Hollywood didn't impose a car-chase on us.
This is a film about Marines. At that time, there were very few who turned down scholarships to Ivy League schools to come in. We were from strange backgrounds. We were obscene. We did want to get our kills. Many of us were frustrated that our war was only 100 hrs long. We knew we were filling the footsteps of giants - the Marines of Iwo, The Chosin, Belleau Wood - and I think we all wanted a chance to earn a place next to those men. In our wild, adrenalized youth, those aspirations just took the crude form of looking for a kill. Or at least that's how I've put it in perspective 15 years later.
If you go and see this film, try to recall yourself at 18 (as I was). Suspend your judgment of the obscenity and vulgarity until you're sure you would've done it differently. I can't speak for Swofford, but I am still incredibly proud of my service there. The insanity of this film reminds me why: because it is characteristic of the immense hardship that our youth bears on behalf of the rest. Do the characters look stressed? It's not hyperbole. We were 18 and we thought we were going to die over there. Still, at H-Hour, everyone marched North. In my opinion, you better fill some big shoes before you judge that.
So don't go into this film champing at the bit to pigeon-hole it as "Anti" or "Pro" war, with all the pre-fab rhetoric that comes with such a judgment. You have an opportunity here to look back into our little moment in history. Swofford has invited you into our memories. They are not Right, and they are not Left, they are just our story as Swofford lived it. If that kind of thing interests you, then go and see this movie.
As someone who is in the military, I thought this movie was perfect. If
you are looking for a message about war or politics you won't find it
here. This movie is strictly a story told by the main character about
his time serving in the Marine Corps and his tour in the Gulf. It is
true to life. From the language, situations, to the way the characters
interact, the film is right on with accuracy.
The film is shot with striking cinematography. Scenes in the desert, especially with the oil fires, are breathtaking. The shots are done perfectly and originally throughout while the score and soundtrack takes it to a powerful emotional level.
The film will receive bad reviews from a political standpoint. I read a couple before I saw the movie that all stated they didn't like the movie because it had no message or stance. To that I say good. It was refreshing to see a movie as a movie. I was glad that it was just a story, and there wasn't any motivation underneath it. That's not to say that the movie is one dimensional. There are many undertones, just none of which are attempting to reassert or defame the current war in the East.
See this film if you want to see a humorous, sad, psychotic, intense, and most importantly REAL story.
I am not a professional writer, I am not a director, I am not
important. I just enjoy movies. I'm not writing this to convince you of
my opinion. I'm not even here to give you a professional review of this
movie, or sound educated and witty. I'm here to give a layman's take on
the movie and not be concerned with politics or agendas.
1: Cinematography is downright beautiful in this movie. There are some unforgettable shots. Easily a contender for this year's cinematography award.
2: This is not an action war movie. If you want it to be, find another movie. Black Hawk Down might be closer to what you're looking for, although finding an action movie about Desert Storm is kind of hard.
3: This movie will invoke emotions. And just about any person can pick out a lot of evidence to support why they liked it and why they did not. A person can pick out a lot of evidence supporting the military, and at times make it look like a recruiting tool, or it can show anti war, anti-Bush, anti everything. It will make those that like to argue and takes sides, have a wonderful time with it.
4: The acting is good and realistic. It shows the happy carefree side of war, and also the darker undertones, and not-so-under-toned evils of war.
5: The military prepares people to become soldiers, just like a coach prepares people to become athletes. And once you are one, it is hard to switch it off once a person goes back to normal life. Even quote/ unquote "desk jockey's" and those that aren't in the actual combat but provide support roles, are still trained to fight.
6: Media and movies have not helped our perception of war and those involved. They've been putting a spin on things for a while now, and they like to beat a lot of dead horses.
7: This is based on a true story. No matter how "Hollywoodized" a movie can get, it's basic concepts and ideas are still generally intact. And Swoff was actually there. I was not.
8: To me, Jarhead felt like the Full Metal Jacket of this generation. With extreme's of both "anti's" and "pro's" you take it or leave it. Full Metal Jacket is a good movie for taking the approach that it did. Jarhead is no different.
9: Don't hate on anyone trying to do their job, if you see someone in uniform, don't think negatively or positively, unless you know the person. You don't know their story. If you want to find out, just listen. That's all, nothing more. Don't just wait for your next chance to speak.
10: Find a way to see Jarhead, reserve your judgments until afterward, and if you're a jerk, then give all the snotty, ignorant, or mean opinions you want. You won't change anyone's mind, just tick them off.
To finish up, this movie will make you feel something. Let it go. No wonder people's stress levels are high. If you offend easily, lighten up. If all you can do is go around in life and get offended, then I am truly sorry for you. Now, I'm going to grab a beer from the fridge, sit down and watch a movie, to have something to do. Nothing more.
I saw a promotional screening of the film, sponsored by my university.
Following the screening was an audience Q&A with the author (and main
character), Tony Swofford.
And it was no surprise that the very first question from the audience was, quite ambiguously, "Do you support the military?" When Swofford dismissed the question as too broad and complex to be answered with a simple yes or no, the inquirer followed up with, "Well, do you support the war?" Swofford dismissed this even more readily.
To me, this was perfectly representative of how the film handled its potential political implications.
As Troy says early on in the film, "To hell with politics. We're here now." And that's essentially how the movie went.
It bypasses the soapbox and simply tells you how it was, from the perspective of a single soldier. And while the opening boot camp scenes may seem like Full Metal Jacket Lite, the rest of the film is truly unique.
Sam Mendes directs with his usual brilliance, showing once again his affinity for bright, vivid color, even in the largely monochromatic desert.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives an excellent performance as Anthony Swofford, complemented by the able talents of Jamie Foxx and Peter Sarsgaard.
The film's only real flaw is that, like the war on which it was based, it's pretty slow, and not a lot really happens.
In the strictest sense, I would have a hard time even classifying this as a war film, and it's certainly not a deliberately political film.
But in its own way, it tells an intense, personal story. Beyond that, you're simply left to make your own judgments.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
JARHEAD is the third in a string of successful films by Sam Mendes,
first wowing audiences with American BEAUTY and then continuing our
admiration with ROAD TO PERDITION. With JARHEAD, Mendes solidifies
himself as one of the most extraordinary filmmakers working today.
The first thing that may surprise audiences is that this is not necessarily an anti-war piece. Mendes and screenwriter William Broyles, Jr. have been careful not to make this film narrow in view. Instead, by focusing on the psychological turmoil of one soldier, Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal), JARHEAD is able to speak specifically about this man's experience and how it relates to those around him.
Mendes drenches the screen with sights and sounds that literally envelope us in the horrors of warfare. These explosions of vision and noise are counterbalanced, however, with scenes of great sadness and warmth. One scene that comes quickly to mind is a boot camp drill where the young soldiers are crawling under barbed wire--the sound design is such that we hear every character screaming or grunting as the gunshots zoom overhead. But then, the scene changes. An event occurs that allows Mendes to silence all of the violence and machismo of war. Amongst the hysteria of the scene, one of the soldiers freaks out and a gunshot is discharged. Mendes lets the camera witness this as if it hadn't expected it to occur. The characters are in shock, and so is the audience. It's just one of many powerful moments where Mendes changes from loud, visceral warfare to quiet, poignant moments.
Not that there's much warfare here. In fact, the lack of warfare becomes a theme for this film. Peter Sarsgaard, in a great performance, reaches his breaking point during the final third of the film, and it's a riveting moment where the lack of warfare has finally made him explode. His performance is very strong throughout, but it is not until the second half of the film when he finally gets the chance to break loose. Don't mistake the first half of his performance as simply being on-screen... charisma that palpable doesn't happen by accident. It is because he uses his scenes and lines wisely in the first half that we end up so engrossed and fascinated by him in the second. A true supporting performance. Oscar nomination hopefully on the way.
Jamie Foxx surprised me here, and not because I didn't think he was a fine actor. Obviously, he is. But his character is so well-conceived, and works wonderfully as the counterpoint to the Gyllenhaal character. Foxx plays his scenes confidently, but also with touches of gravitas that, even in RAY, we haven't seen before. The scene that we get a glimpse of at the end of the trailer is wonderful in its fullness, and helps Mendes' film give us a well-rounded opinion of Swofford's opinions on the war. Foxx is by turns hilarious and profound.
And then there was Jake Gyllenhaal. Wow. This is an incredible performance. Watch for a dozen scenes where he literally explodes off the screen, but how he also juggles the quieter moments with great aplomb. What makes Swofford an intriguing character is that he doesn't always get our sympathy; or, for that matter, want our sympathy. He is scarred by war and his family and the life he left behind, and he is just looking for a way to get out of the sand and the sexual dysfunction of war and the lack of gunfire. Gyllenhaal captivates our attention from his very first glimpse, and his voice-over performance laces the film with irony and melancholy. He is a great physical presence in the film as well. I could cite more than a few dynamic scenes that he performs masterfully in, but I'll just mention one. Swofford points a rifle at a fellow soldier after a failed night watch, and then turns the rifle on himself, asking the fellow soldier to discard a round into his mouth. It's an indescribably painful scene to watch, but it's also an example of Gyllenhaal's brave and honest portrayal of this bruised man.
Some people have begun to write about this film as lacking structure or story, and in saying that I'm afraid they may have missed the point. This is a story about ambiguity of self, about dislocation, about ambivalence to war and love, about sexual frustration. In these terms, I think Mendes & Co. have found the perfect way to cinematically allow us to experience the same sort of blank complexity that Swofford must have felt. And that's why I find this a remarkable adaptation of a memoir that I admire deeply.
I could go on and list scene after scene that make this a memorable film, but I'll let you experience it yourself and decide for yourself. In summation, JARHEAD is a viscerally unforgiving, psychologically heartbreaking masterpiece.
I don't know that this is an "Academy" film, but it is certain to garner nominations. I would nominate it as: Picture, Director (Mendes), Adapted Screenplay (Broyles Jr.), Actor (Gyllenhaal), Supporting Actor (Foxx), Supporting Actor (Sarsgaard), Editing, Score, Cinematography, Sound.
At last - a movie that simply shows it like it is... No "Rambo"
superhero-idiotic-nonsense; no overdone, melancholy, attempt at
cinematic artistry at the cost of authenticity - such as is found in
"Platoon", "FMJ", "Apocalipse Now" and "Deerhunter" - to name a few
overrated war movies.
Finally a movie which captures the FEEL of being a Marine in the eighties... the sights, the sounds, the events - all brought back vivid memories. As the scenes unfolded, I found myself thinking "... I remember when that happened..." over and over, because my service somewhat paralleled Swofford's own, and I was aware of - if not a witness to - certain events that took place. A movie which portrays the Marine grunt for what he is... certainly no angel, but the absolute backbone of American military toughness. The barracks and field life portrayed in this movie is perhaps the most accurate portrait Hollywood has produced.
With only a few realtively minor technical inaccuracies, this is a movie whose full richness can probably only be experienced by those who were in the Corps at that time. And for that degree of accuracy, I am grateful to the author and those who produced the film. Too often producers and directors overlook the details that make a military film credible to veterans - such as the details of the uniform, the sounds and function of weapons, the behavior of the characters. Not so in "Jarhead". And the dialogue was right on.
Having read several of the other comments, it is clear to me that there are events depicted in the movie which may not be clearly understood or properly contextualized by someone who has not served in the Marine Corps infantry. Do not let that stop you from seeing the film - it is an excellent view into a world most people will never see. I left the theater feeling proud of my service, and although I miss the daily life of an active duty Marine, "Jarhead" left me feeling strangely happy to be able to look back on it - and to sleep in my own home, my own bed, tonight. Yet, for many Marine veterans, the hope remains in the back of our minds that the phone will ring tomorrow with an opportunity to go back and lead men once again - and yes, for those who might wonder, even in Iraq or anywhere else - as the line in the move so eloquently put it "Forget the politics. We're here now." Such is the fidelity of a rough-hewn few who are ready to fight when called upon. Grunts really don't expect most people to love us or understand us, but we hope there are some folks out there who might appreciate the fact that we are there. I think the movie captures that notion commendably.
More than anyone, I would imagine that U.S. Soldiers would have a more
specific opinion of this film than anyone else. They were there, they
were in it, no one knows better than they.
And there are two kinds of soldiers: those who loved it, who took great pride and honor in serving their country... and those who saw it as just a job, got out, and got on with their lives. "Jarhead" is based on a book, written by a U.S. Marine, who falls squarely into the second category.
He does not judge, he does not come out as for or against the war. This is not a political movie, yet will still make some people uncomfortable, and it should. "Jarhead" lays out the experience of one particular Marine from boot camp, to (suddenly) Operation Desert Shield, to Operation Desert Storm. What happens here is not always pretty, but it is the truth, and the truth should be all we can ask for.
The screenplay was adapted by William Broyles Jr., who in addition to some TV work, adapted the recent "Planet of the Apes" remake, and "Cast Away." Personally, I didn't think either of these films were anything special, which is why "Jarhead" is such a surprise. Not a lot blows up, there's no huge siege like in your typical Vietnam movie... it's a surprisingly affecting study of this one man, the experiences he had, the people he knew. It's about the Corps, and it's about brotherhood. Our main character, Swof, never judges, never mentions politics, is only the best Marine that he knows how to be.
As Swof's friend Troy says at one point, "F*** politics. We're here. All the rest is bull****." Which is all the movie is about, really. This is what happened. Take it or leave it.
Just saw an advanced screening of this tonight. While it isn't the film
that has been so brilliantly advertised, it's a very solid film. It
feels a lot like "Full Metal Jacket" early on, but with more humor.
Then, it becomes an entirely new animal. More of a psychological study.
I would actually call this the "Blair Witch Project" of war films in
that you (and the characters) know the Boogeyman's "out there," you're
just waiting for him to strike. And the longer you wait, the more
stir-crazy you become within your own mind.
The acting is superb and the cinematography is stellar. It's an anti-war film without being distinctly liberal about it. It's a true story, and for the most part, Mendes tells it like it is. So, you can make your own judgment about it. But based off what you see, and all that happens, you have no choice but see the absurdity, not only in war, but perhaps in some of the USMC's tactics as well. It's heartbreaking to see what an experience like this can do to young men.
If you're looking for action, this is not the film you're looking for. No heroism, judgments, insight, or hope. Just the documentation and reflection of build up, the destruction of lives, psychological torment, boredom, camaraderie, and...waiting.
I saw this movie at a screening at UC Berkeley. Afterward the author of
the novel it is based on held a Q&A.
This movie is a bit long, but so are most War films. It does, however, keep your attention the entire times.
This film is not just a War film, it is able to seamlessly mix comedy and drama, with such issues as Mental health and even a bit of ennui.
The characters are fully developed, each and everyone has an interesting story that is covered, briefly but perfectly. You get a broad spectrum of the kinds of men that go to war, what they left behind, and how it effects them when they return.
The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and Sam Mendes' direction is pitch perfect.
Jakc Gyllenhaal gives an astounding performance, as does Jamie Foxx, but it is Peter Sarsgaard that steals the show, with a heartbreakingly subtle ghost of a performance.
This is definitely a must-see.
"Every war is different," says Anthony Swofford as the movie "Jarhead"
comes to a close. "Every war is the same." Looking back on his
experience, he sees that the first Gulf War and the Marine Corps have
become ineradicable parts of who he is: "Every jar-head is me." The
screen shimmers and shifts into a scene of a desert patrol dwarfed by
distance and hazed by heat waves. "We are still in the desert," he
says. The screen darkens. The credits begin to roll.
A critic once observed that audiences emerge from a comedy talking animatedly with one another, but after a tragedy they come forth subdued and solitary, each absorbed by his or her own thoughts.
"Jarhead" is not a tragedy but a tragic coming-of-age story. As in "The Last Picture Show," a young man discovers what a cruel, destructive business life can be. Swofford emerges from a war that has consisted of a long, maddening wait followed by a hard march through the surreal aftermath of battles already won by jets dropping smart bombs, toward a horizon blackened by Saddam's burning oil wells. He returns home to find that his girlfriend has left him for another man. His best friend, who suffered with him through the combat that never came, dies as a civilian, possibly a suicide, as he was thrown out of the Corps with a dishonorable discharge.
Subdued and solitary, I waited outside the theater for my wife.
"So, what did you think?" I asked her when she came out. "Definitely not a John Wayne movie," she said. "No," I responded, reminded of Clint Eastwood sharing a victory cigar with a young Marine beneath an American flag raised atop a hill in Grenada in "Heartbreak Ridge."
"It wasn't as dark as the book," I said. "In the book," she replied, "you couldn't see Swofford's smile."
Jake Gyllenhaal does display an engaging, youthful grin in the early part of the movie. He plays the twenty-year-old Swoff very well. And Jamie Foxx does Sgt. Sykes brilliantly. Against the backdrop of a night made at once hellish and spectacular by blazing oil wells, the Sergeant tells Swoff that he (Sykes) could have joined his brother and had a nice safe job stateside, but with no chance to see such sights as this. "I love this job," he says. "I thank God for every day he gives me in the Corps. Oorah... You know what I mean, Swoff?" Foxx's delivery is flat, point blank, neither sarcastic nor enthusiastic. He is an exhausted soldier giving himself a pep talk he scarcely believes in any longer. Get out your Oscar Nomination forms.
At dinner we tried to recall what was book and what was movie. I did not remember the scene in which the soldiers are interviewed by a TV journalist from the book, but from Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket." From "Full Metal Jacket" also, I believe, came the bizarre business of a soldier's sardonically making a corpse his buddy. The war-is-surreal-hell moral of the movie reminded me of Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" - a film the young jar-heads watch with sexual intensity in Mendez's movie. But the scene in which the soldiers sit down to enjoy a home movie one Marine's wife has made - of herself being humped by their next door neighbor - that, we all agreed, was in the book.
I remember when "Battle Cry" came out in 1955. Unlike the Boy-Scout-clean soldiers of most WW II movies of that era, these Marines said Hell and Damn. And one of them actually shot the finger at some troops riding past - What a shocker!
A Jacksonville, NC Daily News reporter interviewed several Marines from the local base who saw the movie. Excerpt:
Their reviews seemed to be positive, especially concerning the portrayal of the relationship between Marines and how deployments and war are mostly about sitting around and waiting.
"I thought it was good," said Lance Cpl. Richard Usher, 19, from Tampa, Fla. "From what I know, it's accurate. They did say 'Oorah' way too much."
Lance Cpl. Josh Rader, 29, of Georgia, said he thought the movie was one of the more accurate portrayals of the Marine Corps, with the only more accurate movie being Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket."
"A lot of the training, they dramatize it more," Rader said. "I'd say it's probably more accurate."
Lance Cpl. Adam Blades, 20, with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, agreed, but took exception to the actors' ages.
"The actors were a little old," he said. "The majority of guys going over there are like 18 and 19. But it was pretty cool. As accurate as I've seen." +++
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