“Jarhead” is a film that depicts what life was like for a Marine during Conflict Desert Storm. After seeing the film, I would rather be a part of that war than have to sit through the movie again.
That’s not to say the film is entirely horrible the first time through. It had its memorable moments but, overall, it was not executed as well as it could have been.
The audience lives vicariously through Marine Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal), an actual Marine who wrote the book that inspired the film. As the movie begins, so does Swofford’s stint in the Marine Corps.
The first half of the movie, where Swofford makes his way through basic training, is done in a comical fashion. This half of the movie made light of some terrible situations, like being beaten by drill sergeants. You might laugh at some of the moments, and you would probably feel guilty for doing so.
The second half of the film took a more serious and dramatic tone. The war had begun at this point, and the Marines were starting to experience the mental and emotional effects of war.
Situations were no longer taken lightly – which felt odd. After watching an hour of a comedy, it was a strange feeling to be placed into a drama.
During one scene which was likely meant to be the transition between the two styles, one of the characters makes a vulgar comment while his peers look at him as if to say, “This is not the time.” This would have been a good way to usher in the dramatic side of the film. The problem was that the other Marines’ reactions only made the comments more comical. This scene is a perfect example of how the movie mishandled what it had going for it.
If there was one thing that was handled with care; it was the acting.
Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Swofford’s struggle never came across as forced, especially during the film’s more intense moments.
Jamie Foxx gives a strong performance as Staff Sgt. Sykes, especially when he is being comically tough. For example, after one of his Marines was shot in a training mission, Sykes goes over and starts yelling at the dead body for messing up.
This easily could have been seen as an exaggeration, but because of Foxx’s portrayal of the character, it came across naturally.
Exceptional acting and spots of entertaining comedy would lead one to think the film’s missteps could be overlooked. In most cases, this would probably be true, but I could not help from feeling bored.
The problem is that, even though the acting and comedy are decent, they don’t lead the story anywhere. Most of the decent bits were not worth sitting through an ultimately boring and long story, and the few important parts of the story were not handled well.
I would recommend this film only to big fans of war movies. Everyone else should probably avoid it like flying shrapnel.
Matthew Loriso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.