Same conflicts, different war.
It's easy to give you the general feel of Jarhead if we make the assumption that you've seen Full Metal Jacket, because Jarhead is Full Metal Jacket: Gulf War Expansion Disk. If you have not seen Full Metal Jacket, firstly it would be wise to rectify that situation, and secondly read on for the gist of Jarhead. Don't worry, it won't take long.
War, we are frequently told, Is Hell. Jarhead seems to take a different tack, insisting that, for the U.S.M.C. Scout Snipers that new recruit Swoff (Jake 'Two Films In As Many Weeks' Gyllenhaal) the original Gulf War of 1991, subtitled The Mother Of All Battles by Saddam and The Second Aunt Thrice Removed Of All Battles by everyone else, War Is Dull As Hell. With a months long build-up followed by a battle in which air superiority was so pronounced that the front-line was frequently miles in front of the ground troops, Swoff's platoon often wonders what the point of being there is. Of course, before that there's the small matter of boot camp under the standard issue Drill Instructor (apparently the WWF's Sergeant Slaughter was an entirely accurate character portrayal) and sniper training with their Staff Sergeant (Jamie Foxx). Before long some good ol' fashioned bloodlust is beaten into them and they're eager to get a'liberatin'.
Okay, let's do the checklist thing. Clear hammering home for the umpteenth time that War is A Bad Thing? Yes. Mention that US foreign policy in the Middle East has more concern with oil production than human rights? Naturally. The pressures of conflict and horrors witnessed taking a heavy psychological toll on those who survive? Yup yup. Anything we haven't seen before? Not a sausage.
Which is something of a pity, as in every other respect Jarhead is very accomplished. While Jamie Foxx doesn't get much to do apart from seem confident and assured, better this than Stealth, and there's a deuce of excellent turns from Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard to distract you.
Visually it has it's share of moments, the stained, oil showered desert after the oil wells were set ablaze and the road of burned, ruined vehicles and their drivers being particularly effective. There's a definite visual style that you can track through Sam Mendes' last few works, American Beauty and Road To Perdition, the long lingering shots allowing the full scope of the subject to be appreciated, here at least in all of it's horrible majesty.
The unfolding of the narrative is similarly well considered. The opening salvos, while not exactly casting the Marines in the most positive of lights is rather amusing, in it's own squaddie sort of way. The laughter dies out as the film proceeds, leaving a dark, gloomy ending as befits the subject matter.
If anyone's going to come out of 2005 smelling of roses it's Gyllenhaal, immediately following everyone's Oscar favourite Gay Cowboy Film with another great, sympathetic turn that's curiously easy to connect with even when he's extolling the delights of attempting to shoot people in the head. The Marine Corps might come out of this film looking like a shower of boorish, semi-deranged lunkheads but Jake confirms his reputation as a class act. Let the gradual slide into mediocre romcom territory begin!
Peter Sarsgaard might not have set the heather on fire with Flightplan, which is fortunate for the heather if not audiences, but here lies redemption. It's also nice to see 24's Dennis 'Da Prez' Haysbert out of the house for a few lines, and Chris Cooper's C.O. Lt. Col. Kazinski makes a far greater impression than the vanishingly small number of lines allotted to him would seem to allow.
There's lots of positives in here, and precious few negatives. The only bugbear concerning this film-me-do is a faint, nagging voice somewhere in the back of your mind that sits there heckling, "Yeah? So what?" at it, a part that strains desperately against fully enjoying this film on the basis that it's really not doing anything new in the slightest. Same conflicts, different war. Do you really need to see it again? Perhaps not, but on the other hand it's never a good idea to trust the voices in your head as it often leads to extended holidays in facilities with padded wallpaper. Perhaps it's best to forget I ever mentioned them. Yes, let's do that.
In the absence of much else to say, allow me too round off by saying that while there's nothing of the spectacular contained in Jarhead, there is a very highly polished competence that, in the correct light, looks something quite like spectacular. Close enough for now.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
Peter Sarsgaard (Troy)
Jamie Foxx (Staff Sgt. Sykes)
Chris Cooper (Lt. Col. Kazinski)