Jarhead (2005)

On Friday I saw Jarhead (2005), Sam Mendes’ Gulf War film. I’ve been looking forward to seeing this film for some time, mainly because Walter Murch is the editor and I just finished reading two books about him.

Bleak is the best way to describe this film after a first viewing. I wasn’t blown away. I didn’t walk out of the theater feeling excited. I wasn’t ready to line up again and see it for a second time. I wanted to sit back and process everything. Let it settle.

The cast is strong and balanced. We get several views of what it is like to be a marine in the first Gulf War. We aren’t preached to or fed propaganda through a screenplay. You get a real sense of what it might have been like to be a young marine in this little war.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays marine, Anthony Swofford who wrote a best-selling book in 2003 about his Desert Storm experience. You get a sense of just how boring a modern war can be for a marine. Times have changed. Most of the initial fighting is from the air. The marines just train, wait, perform drills, clean their guns, train and wait some more.

The colour palette of the film is muted, de-saturated, emphasizing the boredom that the marines experienced. It must have been a challenge for Roger Deakins to shoot this film because the entire landscape is void of colour. Instead of jungles and lush landscapes we have endless miles of white desert.

There isn’t a lot of action in the film because there wasn’t a lot ground fighting in the war. The marines get worked up into a blood lust while watching films like Apocalypse Now and then they wait for something, anything to happen. They’re dying to fire their weapons on the enemy but most of them never get the chance.

Before long the marines begin to question their role in the war, their purpose, their sacrifice. They become consumed with broken relationships back home—cheating wives and girlfriends. All they can do is sit helplessly in the desert waiting for something to justify their hours of boredom.

Before long you question the whole point of the war. You wonder how these kids could be so naiive. After a while I think that most of the audience will agree with Gyllenhaal’s character when he says, “I’m 20 years old, and I was dumb enough to sign a contract.”

I think Jarhead will become a classic war film like Apocalypse Now or Catch-22. For me it is going to take a few more viewings before I can really appreciate it.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 11:25 AM