Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Jarhead (2005)

Director: Sam Mendes
Writers:  William Broyles Jr., Anthony Swofford
Cast:       Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Lucas Black


Based on former Marine Anthony Swofford's best-selling 2003 book about his pre-Desert Storm experiences in Saudi Arabia and about his experiences fighting/not fighting in Kuwait. The title comes from the derogatory slang term used to refer to Unites States Marines and originates from their haircut which makes their heads look like a Jar.

For most people, the Gulf war under George Bush Sr. was an insignificant one which ended before it began. Not many films have been made on that and the only one I can seem to remember is David O'Russell's 'Three Kings', which was more of a comedy about the ridiculous nature of it. Jarhead is about a group of marines who are not very brave in a Hollywood sense getting bored by nothing happening for their platoon related to war like things. They are initially posted as part of Desert-Shield, protecting oil wells in Saudi Arabia. They spend a few months doing that and things that normally don't get covered in usual war films like-girlfriends/wives cheating them back home, the boring drills to keep them on toes, nothing really happening etc are shown in this film. As per Swofford's own words:

"[voice over narration] Suggested techniques for the Marine to use in the avoidance of boredom and loneliness: Masturbation. Rereading of letters from unfaithful wives and girlfriends. Cleaning your rifle. Further masturbation. Rewiring Walkman. Arguing about religion and meaning of life. Discussing in detail, every woman the Marine has ever fucked. Debating differences, such as Cuban vs. Mexican, Harleys vs. Hondas, left- vs. right-handed masturbation. Further cleaning of rifle. Studying of Filipino mail order bride catalog. Further masturbation. Planning of Marine's first meal on return home. Imagining what the Marine's girlfriend and her man Jody are doing in the hay, or in the alley, or in a hotel bed. "

They indeed do get deployed a part of Desert Storm in Kuwait for a sum total of four days without any kills. It was a war decided by the air-strikes and the ground troops didn't have much to do since there was no significant occupation after the war like in Iraq war of the noughties. Film can be best described as a different kind of anti-war film with its narrative driven by its boredom and what it does to the Marines in their personal lives and what is in store for their future, instead of politics. Nothing Hollywood happens to provide the characters a redemptive movement and we really want them to take the sniper shot for their sake at the end instead of waiting for the air force to bomb the place. It is a very good watch without being great and not much scope for rewatchability. The editing is top-notch and the scenes of oil-wells in flames were brilliant. One can watch Herzog's 'Lessons of Darkness' which just had that and is beautifully surreal.

Sam Mendes is someone who consistently provide better than good films without making a great one. I loved American Beauty when I saw it first and but it is something that has not aged well and loses considerably on re-watch. He also made the best James Bond film in 'Skyfall'. He is also gonna make the next James Bond one and am looking forward to it even though I am not a huge fan of the franchise.

Rating: 3.5/5