The new film by the overrated Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road To Perdition) is certainly an interesting piece of cinema. Following the tour of duty of a dozen or so marines in the first Gulf War, it promises to be a diary detailing the day to day lives of soldiers on standby in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, it fulfils this pledge to the letter, which means that the film itself is often rather dull.
Mendes’ film takes an interesting ‘hands off’ approach to the politics of the situation, or wars in general, and instead focuses simply on what it’s like to be a combatant. Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain) is the central figure and narrator of the piece, and his character Swoff is suitably confused/unsure/angry/sad at any given moment. Peter Sarsgaard (Flightplan) is under utilised, and his character is almost as ambiguous as the film itself. He’s aloof and enigmatic, but that’s about it, which is a pity since I know how much he is capable of. Jamie Foxx delivers another brilliant performance, and in recent times he’s certainly shown the extraordinary extent of his ability, from Collateral to Ray to Stealth. His Staff Sgt. Sykes is superbly unpredictable, and thankfully nothing like the typical superiors we’ve seen in war movies of the past.
As with Mendes’ previous works, Jarhead is incredibly beautiful (even without a floating plastic bag). Roger Deakins’ (The Village) composition is consistently sparse yet stunning, and the editing and soundtrack meld together perfectly to create a wonderfully constructed film.
The ending confounded me to be honest, and I’m still not really sure of the point of the narrative. The most controversial part of Jarhead is probably that is blatantly refuses to be just that. In a time when I’m sure all sorts of groups all over the world are ready to leap at the throat of the film, I’m thinking they won’t have much to quibble over.
Review by Stuart Wilson, 13th February 2006
In his attempt to demonstrate the boredom of the day-to-day lives of the front line ‘jarheads’ in the first Gulf War, Sam Mendes succeeds too greatly. His movie is itself a great bore.
The requirements for being a ground level marine have changed over the years, and if Jarhead is to be believed, the tasks asked of these highly trained men are minimal and unexciting. The skill and accuracy of fighter pilots and bombers have rendered ground-based warfare inefficient, and left many of the soldiers redundant. Mixing outright boredom for many months (as they wait for seomthing to do), with occasional flashes of ‘action’ is a recipe for a kind of madness, demonstrated perfectly by Peter Sarsgaard. Troy is so keen to be a marine, so eager to do his job and serve his country, that when he is finally given the opportunity to do so, he has been warped by having waited so long. Surrounding him are several other cases of mental illness, although many of these are outlines of characters only, not fully fledged beings.
Jake Gyllenhaal is the hero and narrator, but is surprisingly subdued for much of the film (several individual scenes excluded), leaving the attention to focus predominantly on Jamie Foxx as his superior officer. Foxx recaptures some of the magnetism that he failed to show in the abysmal Stealth, and dominates all of the scenes he features in, his presence is so commanding.
The languorous pace of Jarhead suits the aim of showing what the waiting must have been like, but the character developments that occur are far too minor to keep an audience interested for long. There were times I wondered when the story was going to start, and I was certainly glad when the marines finally got to do their jobs. Mendes walks a fine line between boring us and allowing us to empathise with his characters, but fails to manage this balance.
As Stuart mentions above, Jarhead is at times visually stunning, with some remarkable desert scenes truly showing off the abilities of cinematographer Roger Deakins. The oilfield sequence, with massive flames and raining oil are beautiful, and some of the desert images are incredible. Sadly, however, the visual beauty is compromised by several poorly drawn characters and a limited plot that hardly seems worthy of a 123 minute treatment.
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 14th February 2006Hoopla Factor: