you're wondering whether "Jarhead" is a message movie,
you'll find your answer in a line from the film. When
the Marines in his sniper unit begin discussing the
reason behind America's involvement in Desert Storm,
Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) says, "To hell with politics.
We're here now." That sentiment sums up what "Jarhead"
the movie is all about. To hell with politics, arguments
over whether or not America should have been involved
in protecting Kuwait from Saddam Hussein's Iraqi troops,
and other concerns over the justification of sending
Americans to fight in Desert Storm.
"Jarhead" is a character-driven story about what happened to a specific group of men during Desert Shield/Desert Storm and how they adjusted to life in the desert sands of Kuwait - politics be damned.
Based on the memoirs of ex-Marine Anthony Swofford, "Jarhead" isn't a blow 'em up action film. In fact, there's barely any action in the movie at all. Highly unusual - and a bit risky for a movie which focuses all its attention on life in the military - the film is more about what happens when a highly trained group of Marines is sent to a foreign country and asked to wait and wait and wait for an enemy they never get to engage.
By sticking closely to the tone of Anthony Swofford's book, screenwriter William Broyles Jr and director Sam Mendes bring to life Swofford's very personal account of his time spent serving in the Marines without adding much of a political agenda to Swofford's story. While some critics have cried foul over the fact the film doesn't take a clear cut stance on war, I think the tone of the movie is totally in keeping with Swofford's book. It's not necessary to spell everything out for the audience. You can draw your own conclusions as to the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all. "Jarhead" is more interested in showing you what's normally kept out of sight, revealing the military life that's normally hidden from civilian eyes.
Jake Gyllenhaal , who adds another fine performance to his impressive list of credits ( "Donnie Darko," "October Sky," "Proof" ), takes on the leading role of Anthony 'Swoff' Swofford. Like the book, the film is told from his point of view. Beginning as a fresh and naïve recruit, "Jarhead" quickly moves on to Swoff's promotion to an elite unit, with Swoff's story ultimately playing out over the extended period of time he and his fellow Marines spent trying not to go crazy and kill themselves - or each other - while waiting to play a role in Desert Storm. How they occupied their time and what went down during those long, hot, sandy, seemingly endless hours in the desert is at the heart of the film.
Jamie Foxx co-stars as a bad-a** sergeant who loves what he does and can't imagine a life that doesn't involve serving his country and being a Marine. Foxx has emerged as one of the best actors around (we'll give him a pass for "Stealth" because he's been so good in everything else recently) and his performance as Swoff's staff sergeant fairly leaps off the screen, providing the audience with yet another glimpse at the talent that earned him a Best Acting Oscar for "Ray."
Speaking of performances that leap off the screen, I'm wondering if there will ever come a time when Peter Sarsgaard is acknowledged for the risks he takes in choosing roles, and for his consistency in knocking it out of the park. As Swoff's sniper partner, Sarsgaard displays a sort of lethal calmness that's absolutely gripping.
Even though I found the film to be one of the finest of the year, "Jarhead" certainly isn't perfect. There's a scene with a horse that's a real head-scratcher, and a few other minor bits could have been chopped without losing any of the story. And having never served in the military, I don't have a clue and wouldn't venture a guess as to how realistic the film actually is. But the performances are incredible (there's not a single actor out of the entire ensemble cast who doesn't hit their mark) and the cinematography and direction make you feel like you're right there in the Suck with these guys.
"Jarhead" isn't an easy film to shake off - and that's a good thing. It'll stick with you no matter whether you're anti-war or pro-military or consider yourself to be stuck smack dab in the middle of the road. "Jarhead" will be a different experience for every moviegoer, but one that's equally entertaining to sit through no matter what your political leanings.