Wednesday, February 6, 2013


(November 2005, U.S.)

Let's clear this up right away - the title JARHEAD comes from the slang term used to refer to U.S. Marines (sometimes by Marines themselves). The second thing I should point out upfront is that JARHEAD may, perhaps, be the only combat film in the history of cinema in which no United States soldier actually fires his weapon during combat at any time. But more about that later.

This biographical drama war film (based on the biographical accounts of U.S. soldier Anthony Swofford), like Stanley Kubrick's FULL METAL JACKET (1987), begins with the attention on the above-mention Anthony Swofford (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) as he endures the hell of basic training of U.S. Marine boot camp under his hard-boiled drill instructor. From there, it's off to the 1990-1991 Gulf War and Operation Desert Shield in Iraq where Anthony trains to become an expert sniper. Like the other soldiers in his unit, their blood is boiling and they're longing to kick some Iraqi ass! It's something they can taste every day of their existence and the reality of the situation is that they're just painfully waiting for something, anything to happen. The concept of war for these men has turned into nothing more than sheer boredom in the desert. Even when Operation Desert Storm is finally declared and the Marines are dispatched to the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, very little changes for them. Their purpose in Iraq to this point has been about oil and nothing else and it's becoming painful. Watch carefully how Corporal Alan Troy ( played by Peter Sarsgaard) cries in pain and agony when at the end, when it seems he'll finally be able to manage just one kill in this entire war, is ultimately denied his opportunity at the last moment. This is a man who has seemingly little to look forward to back home and whose sole purpose in the Gulf War has been to hunt down and kill the enemy...denied to the very end. The war ends and the men go home alive. Alan is pronounced dead by the film's end. Although the cause is not indicated, one can't help but wonder if it was an act of suicide to end a life that appeared to have little meaning left.

Since AMERICAN BEAUTY in 1999, director Sam Mendes has become a very well-respected, admired filmmaker. Because most of JARHEAD takes place in the desert, I can't exactly claim that Mendes is on the same par with David Lean (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA). However, there some particular moments when the soldiers are marching along the desert plain with the burning oil fields in the distance that are remarkably striking to the eye. Take a look...

When you watch these moments, it reminds us, perhaps, of the reality of the Gulf War for these Marines. They were trained to fight, they yearn to fight, they live to fight...and in the end, their purpose in this foreign land has been about oil. Right or wrong, that's hardly the subject of debate for this blog. My job is to interpret my thoughts and feelings for this particular war film. And speaking as a man who's never been in the military and speaking for those who fought, survived and died in the first Gulf War, I hope this writer did JARHEAD some degree of pride and justice.

Finally, let me draw your attention to one particular sequence that never fails to put a smile on my face. It's the simple shot of a group of men watching a movie on a large screen. Simple, yes, but exceptional in the fact that these men are U.S. Marines and the movie they're watching is Francis Ford Coppola's APOCALYPSE NOW (1979). They almost resemple any given audience at a midnight showing of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE show as they gleefully sing along with Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" and cheer their hearts out when the U.S. helicopters fire upon the Vietnamese beach village. War may be Hell, indeed, but for these men, it's home.

Favorite line or dialogue:

D.I. Fitch: "You the maggot whose father served in Vietnam?"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, yes, sir!"
Fitch: "Outstanding! Did he have the balls to die there?"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, no, sir!"
Fitch: Too fucking bad! He ever talk about it?"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, only once, sir!"
Fitch: Good! Then he wasn't lying! Are you eyeballing me with those baby-blues? Are you?"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, no, sir!"
Fitch: "Are you in love with me, Swofford?"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, no, sir!"
Fitch: "Why, you don't think I look good in my uniform, Swofford?"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, the Drill Instructor looks excellent in his uniform, sir!"
Fitch: "Oh, so you're gay then and you love me!"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, I'm not gay, sir!"
Fitch: "You got a girlfriend, Swafford?"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, yes, sir!"
Fitch: "Guess again, dumbass! Jody's banging her right now! Get on your face and give me twenty five for all the times she's gonna get fucked this month! Down on your face!"

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