Like a typical film about war, Jarhead is split into two parts, with the first focusing on training, and the second moving the characters into combat zones. Jarhead revolves around Anthony Swofford, a 19-year old who attends Marine Corps training and gets stationed at Camp Pendleton in 1989. As he finds his time at the camp tough, he struggles to make friends and feigns illness to avoid his duties, until Staff Sergeant Sykes takes note of his potential and drafts him into his sniper course. As Iraq invades Kuwait, the marines are deployed there as part of Operation Desert Shield. Eager for combat, the marines are faced with boredom, isolation and paranoia rather than war, catapulting some of them into nervous breakdowns. But, as Operation Desert Storm occurs, war still doesn‚??t arrive for these marines, making Jarhead a gruelling factual account of routines and relationships during a war that only few saw.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as protagonist Anthony Swofford with a hard-lined performance we‚??ve come to now expect of him. He is our protagonist but also just a random marine that doesn‚??t get the camera‚??s special care. We simply watch him in an environment with other marines in a war where there was a lot of bonding time, and Gyllenhaal fills into the atmosphere well, allowing us to learn as much as we do of himself as we do of others. To be honest, all the actors give performances on the same level, making this a very believable story. Swofford‚??s roommate, Peter Sarsgaard‚??s Troy, gives quite a calculating performance where his love for war remains an enigma to us. Jamie Foxx is definitely the right man to command the Gomer Pyle marines, for he does have a tongue and an attitude, but his softer side, something lacking in Full Metal Jacket let‚??s say, adds a dimension to the relationships that Jarhead becomes a genuine depiction of humanity as well as war.
Jarhead is an intense character study not really about politics, as you would have expected, just about marine expeditions. By the end, marine training and routines such as jogging, shooting, hydrating and dehydrating will be drilled into our heads, and as you can see, Jarhead isn‚??t at all that mighty, just authentically represented. This makes Jarhead an original look at war that maintains our interest throughout and drains our desire for combat. From the lack of alcohol, to American football, patriotic war films and marine initiations, the characters are brought together through such banal activities, but these moments are integral in our understanding of how war can corrupt without combat. Jarhead fantastically emphasises the pressures of being in a different land, with only men, suffering from stress about pretty much everything. Boredom is something unheard of in war films, as is the climate, or the paranoia about life at home; therefore Jarhead is unique in its approach to how war can be shown without actual violence. Yes it does have influences, with echoes of Full Metal Jacket‚??s rigorous training, and the slow-burning build-up of Apocalypse Now, but Jarhead is very much a war film on its own, preferring to find the truth through marine relationships rather than marine combat. Rather than experience it ourselves first-hand through the characters, we are shown the effects of it on places, people and through the jarheads‚?? idea of what war is supposed to be like.
Jarhead has to be complimented for being a starkly realistic approach to war. You may be thinking war requires combat and death, and seeing as Jarhead neglects war throughout, the climax is expected to have war in store for us. But you‚??re wrong, Jarhead surprises with a unique conclusion to such a unique film by not even taking one shot and leaving our jarhead protagonists devoid of that usefulness they are meant to embody as overseas protectors. When Troy and Anthony are about to take their first shot, Major Lincoln, a higher power, interrupts them seconds before, and Troy goes berserk, proving war means nothing to the elite, but can psychologically destroy the rest. Jarhead doesn‚??t emphasise this enough, and this scene in particular which was brooding with intensity until it ended in tears. It is though the returning home part that reeks of the most realism. The futility of soldier‚??s is evoked well as they are merely admired by war veterans and neglected by the rest of society, making those words uttered by Troy, ‚??I feel like we count for something,‚?? such a sad statement and a realisation for us that warfare is the start of the end for many of the soldiers that survive it. Their return is a bit brief, and lacks the punch we would have felt if these characters actually felt tragedy, but it depends on the type of war, and the Gulf War lacked raw heartbreak.
Jahead does after all need a more brutal edge to it, not in terms of characters, but in terms of its criticism of war, the customs of training, marine relationships and more. Jarhead is far away from being a cautionary tale against the futility of soldiers; it instead seems to promote war through the way nothing significant ever happens. The Gulf War was the first internationally viewed war from the front line, earning it the nickname the Video Game War, therefore we should feel a worldwide spotlight, but it feels quite the opposite. The marines are recorded, but are censored in their recordings, but rather than politically investigate this further, Jarhead prefers to dedicate more of its time to the marines.
Jarhead is a film with plenty of fascinating moments that can be pulled out for educational use regarding the Gulf War, or purely for entertainment in showing us the reality of war. It is nothing spectacular, for these moments altogether make this film gritty to the core, but bare in terms of that feeling of watching cinema.
It may be lacking actual warfare and a political edge, but Jarhead makes up for it with a raw investigation of marine mentality.