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A realistic glimpse into our history....
splatzer6 November 2005
I was reluctant to see this movie. As a veteran of Desert Shield/Storm, I spent my first 90 days in-theater in the Weapons Co of A Swofford's Battalion. I later was moved to the 1st Bn of 7th Marines, but having been in the same unit for some of the same time I felt I could offer readers a unique perspective on the film's accuracy.

From a purely aesthetic perspective I thought the film was well done. The acting was very good, and the script was well written, witty, and accurate. The actors were well suited to their roles. My personal preference for a good plot would have been disappointed were it not for my personal interest in the film. In my opinion this film is an outstanding dramatic-documentary, so adjust your expectations accordingly. If you are expecting a driving plot line and all the accompanying dramatic tension, then I think you will be disappointed (as many whose comments I heard exiting the theater certainly were). But if you think of it as a chance to take a glimpse into a point in history, and see it as some of those who lived it did, then I think you will be impressed.

Many people may think that the obscenity of some of the interactions was overdone for effect. But whatever anyone's personal judgment of that behavior, that is the closest portrayal of Marines (or soldiers) being themselves I have yet seen on screen. Marines are vulgar. They do watch porn. They do fight among themselves. They do both hate, and love, the Marine Corps. There is an omni-present anti-war conspiracy theorist. The do say ridiculous things. There are some who are over the line. The reality of the Marine Infantry is that things happen there every day that are well beyond conventional sensibility, and which strain credibility to the average civilian. It's all true. I love the Marine Corps and I am still serving - I don't have an axe to grind. It just happens to be true.

Are there parts of the film that I find incredible? Yes. But they are not the essential things. There is a scene, it's even in the trailer, in which everyone is firing their weapon into the air. I wasn't there, but I can't fathom a breach of discipline on that scale. I can't say it's impossible, but I am doubtful. But whether it's true or not is not important. At its essence this is a film about Marines, how they adjusted to the Marine Corps, each other, and a war. If there are a few incredible details, then we can just be grateful that Hollywood didn't impose a car-chase on us.

This is a film about Marines. At that time, there were very few who turned down scholarships to Ivy League schools to come in. We were from strange backgrounds. We were obscene. We did want to get our kills. Many of us were frustrated that our war was only 100 hrs long. We knew we were filling the footsteps of giants - the Marines of Iwo, The Chosin, Belleau Wood - and I think we all wanted a chance to earn a place next to those men. In our wild, adrenalized youth, those aspirations just took the crude form of looking for a kill. Or at least that's how I've put it in perspective 15 years later.

If you go and see this film, try to recall yourself at 18 (as I was). Suspend your judgment of the obscenity and vulgarity until you're sure you would've done it differently. I can't speak for Swofford, but I am still incredibly proud of my service there. The insanity of this film reminds me why: because it is characteristic of the immense hardship that our youth bears on behalf of the rest. Do the characters look stressed? It's not hyperbole. We were 18 and we thought we were going to die over there. Still, at H-Hour, everyone marched North. In my opinion, you better fill some big shoes before you judge that.

So don't go into this film champing at the bit to pigeon-hole it as "Anti" or "Pro" war, with all the pre-fab rhetoric that comes with such a judgment. You have an opportunity here to look back into our little moment in history. Swofford has invited you into our memories. They are not Right, and they are not Left, they are just our story as Swofford lived it. If that kind of thing interests you, then go and see this movie.
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A true and realistic story
scottmey4 November 2005
As someone who is in the military, I thought this movie was perfect. If you are looking for a message about war or politics you won't find it here. This movie is strictly a story told by the main character about his time serving in the Marine Corps and his tour in the Gulf. It is true to life. From the language, situations, to the way the characters interact, the film is right on with accuracy.

The film is shot with striking cinematography. Scenes in the desert, especially with the oil fires, are breathtaking. The shots are done perfectly and originally throughout while the score and soundtrack takes it to a powerful emotional level.

The film will receive bad reviews from a political standpoint. I read a couple before I saw the movie that all stated they didn't like the movie because it had no message or stance. To that I say good. It was refreshing to see a movie as a movie. I was glad that it was just a story, and there wasn't any motivation underneath it. That's not to say that the movie is one dimensional. There are many undertones, just none of which are attempting to reassert or defame the current war in the East.

See this film if you want to see a humorous, sad, psychotic, intense, and most importantly REAL story.
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Pleasantly surprising
Juansmith24 October 2005
I saw a promotional screening of the film, sponsored by my university. Following the screening was an audience Q&A with the author (and main character), Tony Swofford.

And it was no surprise that the very first question from the audience was, quite ambiguously, "Do you support the military?" When Swofford dismissed the question as too broad and complex to be answered with a simple yes or no, the inquirer followed up with, "Well, do you support the war?" Swofford dismissed this even more readily.

To me, this was perfectly representative of how the film handled its potential political implications.

As Troy says early on in the film, "To hell with politics. We're here now." And that's essentially how the movie went.

It bypasses the soapbox and simply tells you how it was, from the perspective of a single soldier. And while the opening boot camp scenes may seem like Full Metal Jacket Lite, the rest of the film is truly unique.

Sam Mendes directs with his usual brilliance, showing once again his affinity for bright, vivid color, even in the largely monochromatic desert.

Jake Gyllenhaal gives an excellent performance as Anthony Swofford, complemented by the able talents of Jamie Foxx and Peter Sarsgaard.

The film's only real flaw is that, like the war on which it was based, it's pretty slow, and not a lot really happens.

In the strictest sense, I would have a hard time even classifying this as a war film, and it's certainly not a deliberately political film.

But in its own way, it tells an intense, personal story. Beyond that, you're simply left to make your own judgments.

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Here's a simple guide to Jarhead, without an agenda.
Cooldude310 November 2005
I am not a professional writer, I am not a director, I am not important. I just enjoy movies. I'm not writing this to convince you of my opinion. I'm not even here to give you a professional review of this movie, or sound educated and witty. I'm here to give a layman's take on the movie and not be concerned with politics or agendas.

1: Cinematography is downright beautiful in this movie. There are some unforgettable shots. Easily a contender for this year's cinematography award.

2: This is not an action war movie. If you want it to be, find another movie. Black Hawk Down might be closer to what you're looking for, although finding an action movie about Desert Storm is kind of hard.

3: This movie will invoke emotions. And just about any person can pick out a lot of evidence to support why they liked it and why they did not. A person can pick out a lot of evidence supporting the military, and at times make it look like a recruiting tool, or it can show anti war, anti-Bush, anti everything. It will make those that like to argue and takes sides, have a wonderful time with it.

4: The acting is good and realistic. It shows the happy carefree side of war, and also the darker undertones, and not-so-under-toned evils of war.

5: The military prepares people to become soldiers, just like a coach prepares people to become athletes. And once you are one, it is hard to switch it off once a person goes back to normal life. Even quote/ unquote "desk jockey's" and those that aren't in the actual combat but provide support roles, are still trained to fight.

6: Media and movies have not helped our perception of war and those involved. They've been putting a spin on things for a while now, and they like to beat a lot of dead horses.

7: This is based on a true story. No matter how "Hollywoodized" a movie can get, it's basic concepts and ideas are still generally intact. And Swoff was actually there. I was not.

8: To me, Jarhead felt like the Full Metal Jacket of this generation. With extreme's of both "anti's" and "pro's" you take it or leave it. Full Metal Jacket is a good movie for taking the approach that it did. Jarhead is no different.

9: Don't hate on anyone trying to do their job, if you see someone in uniform, don't think negatively or positively, unless you know the person. You don't know their story. If you want to find out, just listen. That's all, nothing more. Don't just wait for your next chance to speak.

10: Find a way to see Jarhead, reserve your judgments until afterward, and if you're a jerk, then give all the snotty, ignorant, or mean opinions you want. You won't change anyone's mind, just tick them off.

To finish up, this movie will make you feel something. Let it go. No wonder people's stress levels are high. If you offend easily, lighten up. If all you can do is go around in life and get offended, then I am truly sorry for you. Now, I'm going to grab a beer from the fridge, sit down and watch a movie, to have something to do. Nothing more.
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Bold and Brilliant Melancholy
Scott11208227 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
JARHEAD is the third in a string of successful films by Sam Mendes, first wowing audiences with American BEAUTY and then continuing our admiration with ROAD TO PERDITION. With JARHEAD, Mendes solidifies himself as one of the most extraordinary filmmakers working today.

The first thing that may surprise audiences is that this is not necessarily an anti-war piece. Mendes and screenwriter William Broyles, Jr. have been careful not to make this film narrow in view. Instead, by focusing on the psychological turmoil of one soldier, Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal), JARHEAD is able to speak specifically about this man's experience and how it relates to those around him.

Mendes drenches the screen with sights and sounds that literally envelope us in the horrors of warfare. These explosions of vision and noise are counterbalanced, however, with scenes of great sadness and warmth. One scene that comes quickly to mind is a boot camp drill where the young soldiers are crawling under barbed wire--the sound design is such that we hear every character screaming or grunting as the gunshots zoom overhead. But then, the scene changes. An event occurs that allows Mendes to silence all of the violence and machismo of war. Amongst the hysteria of the scene, one of the soldiers freaks out and a gunshot is discharged. Mendes lets the camera witness this as if it hadn't expected it to occur. The characters are in shock, and so is the audience. It's just one of many powerful moments where Mendes changes from loud, visceral warfare to quiet, poignant moments.

Not that there's much warfare here. In fact, the lack of warfare becomes a theme for this film. Peter Sarsgaard, in a great performance, reaches his breaking point during the final third of the film, and it's a riveting moment where the lack of warfare has finally made him explode. His performance is very strong throughout, but it is not until the second half of the film when he finally gets the chance to break loose. Don't mistake the first half of his performance as simply being on-screen... charisma that palpable doesn't happen by accident. It is because he uses his scenes and lines wisely in the first half that we end up so engrossed and fascinated by him in the second. A true supporting performance. Oscar nomination hopefully on the way.

Jamie Foxx surprised me here, and not because I didn't think he was a fine actor. Obviously, he is. But his character is so well-conceived, and works wonderfully as the counterpoint to the Gyllenhaal character. Foxx plays his scenes confidently, but also with touches of gravitas that, even in RAY, we haven't seen before. The scene that we get a glimpse of at the end of the trailer is wonderful in its fullness, and helps Mendes' film give us a well-rounded opinion of Swofford's opinions on the war. Foxx is by turns hilarious and profound.

And then there was Jake Gyllenhaal. Wow. This is an incredible performance. Watch for a dozen scenes where he literally explodes off the screen, but how he also juggles the quieter moments with great aplomb. What makes Swofford an intriguing character is that he doesn't always get our sympathy; or, for that matter, want our sympathy. He is scarred by war and his family and the life he left behind, and he is just looking for a way to get out of the sand and the sexual dysfunction of war and the lack of gunfire. Gyllenhaal captivates our attention from his very first glimpse, and his voice-over performance laces the film with irony and melancholy. He is a great physical presence in the film as well. I could cite more than a few dynamic scenes that he performs masterfully in, but I'll just mention one. Swofford points a rifle at a fellow soldier after a failed night watch, and then turns the rifle on himself, asking the fellow soldier to discard a round into his mouth. It's an indescribably painful scene to watch, but it's also an example of Gyllenhaal's brave and honest portrayal of this bruised man.

Some people have begun to write about this film as lacking structure or story, and in saying that I'm afraid they may have missed the point. This is a story about ambiguity of self, about dislocation, about ambivalence to war and love, about sexual frustration. In these terms, I think Mendes & Co. have found the perfect way to cinematically allow us to experience the same sort of blank complexity that Swofford must have felt. And that's why I find this a remarkable adaptation of a memoir that I admire deeply.

I could go on and list scene after scene that make this a memorable film, but I'll let you experience it yourself and decide for yourself. In summation, JARHEAD is a viscerally unforgiving, psychologically heartbreaking masterpiece.

I don't know that this is an "Academy" film, but it is certain to garner nominations. I would nominate it as: Picture, Director (Mendes), Adapted Screenplay (Broyles Jr.), Actor (Gyllenhaal), Supporting Actor (Foxx), Supporting Actor (Sarsgaard), Editing, Score, Cinematography, Sound.
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From a Marine from that era
bobhendry6 November 2005
At last - a movie that simply shows it like it is... No "Rambo" superhero-idiotic-nonsense; no overdone, melancholy, attempt at cinematic artistry at the cost of authenticity - such as is found in "Platoon", "FMJ", "Apocalipse Now" and "Deerhunter" - to name a few overrated war movies.

Finally a movie which captures the FEEL of being a Marine in the eighties... the sights, the sounds, the events - all brought back vivid memories. As the scenes unfolded, I found myself thinking "... I remember when that happened..." over and over, because my service somewhat paralleled Swofford's own, and I was aware of - if not a witness to - certain events that took place. A movie which portrays the Marine grunt for what he is... certainly no angel, but the absolute backbone of American military toughness. The barracks and field life portrayed in this movie is perhaps the most accurate portrait Hollywood has produced.

With only a few realtively minor technical inaccuracies, this is a movie whose full richness can probably only be experienced by those who were in the Corps at that time. And for that degree of accuracy, I am grateful to the author and those who produced the film. Too often producers and directors overlook the details that make a military film credible to veterans - such as the details of the uniform, the sounds and function of weapons, the behavior of the characters. Not so in "Jarhead". And the dialogue was right on.

Having read several of the other comments, it is clear to me that there are events depicted in the movie which may not be clearly understood or properly contextualized by someone who has not served in the Marine Corps infantry. Do not let that stop you from seeing the film - it is an excellent view into a world most people will never see. I left the theater feeling proud of my service, and although I miss the daily life of an active duty Marine, "Jarhead" left me feeling strangely happy to be able to look back on it - and to sleep in my own home, my own bed, tonight. Yet, for many Marine veterans, the hope remains in the back of our minds that the phone will ring tomorrow with an opportunity to go back and lead men once again - and yes, for those who might wonder, even in Iraq or anywhere else - as the line in the move so eloquently put it "Forget the politics. We're here now." Such is the fidelity of a rough-hewn few who are ready to fight when called upon. Grunts really don't expect most people to love us or understand us, but we hope there are some folks out there who might appreciate the fact that we are there. I think the movie captures that notion commendably.
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Every War Movie is Different. Every War Movie is the Same.
Quicksand2 November 2005
More than anyone, I would imagine that U.S. Soldiers would have a more specific opinion of this film than anyone else. They were there, they were in it, no one knows better than they.

And there are two kinds of soldiers: those who loved it, who took great pride and honor in serving their country... and those who saw it as just a job, got out, and got on with their lives. "Jarhead" is based on a book, written by a U.S. Marine, who falls squarely into the second category.

He does not judge, he does not come out as for or against the war. This is not a political movie, yet will still make some people uncomfortable, and it should. "Jarhead" lays out the experience of one particular Marine from boot camp, to (suddenly) Operation Desert Shield, to Operation Desert Storm. What happens here is not always pretty, but it is the truth, and the truth should be all we can ask for.

The screenplay was adapted by William Broyles Jr., who in addition to some TV work, adapted the recent "Planet of the Apes" remake, and "Cast Away." Personally, I didn't think either of these films were anything special, which is why "Jarhead" is such a surprise. Not a lot blows up, there's no huge siege like in your typical Vietnam movie... it's a surprisingly affecting study of this one man, the experiences he had, the people he knew. It's about the Corps, and it's about brotherhood. Our main character, Swof, never judges, never mentions politics, is only the best Marine that he knows how to be.

As Swof's friend Troy says at one point, "F*** politics. We're here. All the rest is bull****." Which is all the movie is about, really. This is what happened. Take it or leave it.
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Full Metal Witch Project
twim2327 October 2005
Just saw an advanced screening of this tonight. While it isn't the film that has been so brilliantly advertised, it's a very solid film. It feels a lot like "Full Metal Jacket" early on, but with more humor. Then, it becomes an entirely new animal. More of a psychological study. I would actually call this the "Blair Witch Project" of war films in that you (and the characters) know the Boogeyman's "out there," you're just waiting for him to strike. And the longer you wait, the more stir-crazy you become within your own mind.

The acting is superb and the cinematography is stellar. It's an anti-war film without being distinctly liberal about it. It's a true story, and for the most part, Mendes tells it like it is. So, you can make your own judgment about it. But based off what you see, and all that happens, you have no choice but see the absurdity, not only in war, but perhaps in some of the USMC's tactics as well. It's heartbreaking to see what an experience like this can do to young men.

If you're looking for action, this is not the film you're looking for. No heroism, judgments, insight, or hope. Just the documentation and reflection of build up, the destruction of lives, psychological torment, boredom, camaraderie, and...waiting.
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Not a John Wayne Movie
trcbmc10 November 2005
"Every war is different," says Anthony Swofford as the movie "Jarhead" comes to a close. "Every war is the same." Looking back on his experience, he sees that the first Gulf War and the Marine Corps have become ineradicable parts of who he is: "Every jar-head is me." The screen shimmers and shifts into a scene of a desert patrol dwarfed by distance and hazed by heat waves. "We are still in the desert," he says. The screen darkens. The credits begin to roll.

A critic once observed that audiences emerge from a comedy talking animatedly with one another, but after a tragedy they come forth subdued and solitary, each absorbed by his or her own thoughts.

"Jarhead" is not a tragedy but a tragic coming-of-age story. As in "The Last Picture Show," a young man discovers what a cruel, destructive business life can be. Swofford emerges from a war that has consisted of a long, maddening wait followed by a hard march through the surreal aftermath of battles already won by jets dropping smart bombs, toward a horizon blackened by Saddam's burning oil wells. He returns home to find that his girlfriend has left him for another man. His best friend, who suffered with him through the combat that never came, dies as a civilian, possibly a suicide, as he was thrown out of the Corps with a dishonorable discharge.

Subdued and solitary, I waited outside the theater for my wife.

"So, what did you think?" I asked her when she came out. "Definitely not a John Wayne movie," she said. "No," I responded, reminded of Clint Eastwood sharing a victory cigar with a young Marine beneath an American flag raised atop a hill in Grenada in "Heartbreak Ridge."

"It wasn't as dark as the book," I said. "In the book," she replied, "you couldn't see Swofford's smile."

Jake Gyllenhaal does display an engaging, youthful grin in the early part of the movie. He plays the twenty-year-old Swoff very well. And Jamie Foxx does Sgt. Sykes brilliantly. Against the backdrop of a night made at once hellish and spectacular by blazing oil wells, the Sergeant tells Swoff that he (Sykes) could have joined his brother and had a nice safe job stateside, but with no chance to see such sights as this. "I love this job," he says. "I thank God for every day he gives me in the Corps. Oorah... You know what I mean, Swoff?" Foxx's delivery is flat, point blank, neither sarcastic nor enthusiastic. He is an exhausted soldier giving himself a pep talk he scarcely believes in any longer. Get out your Oscar Nomination forms.

At dinner we tried to recall what was book and what was movie. I did not remember the scene in which the soldiers are interviewed by a TV journalist from the book, but from Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket." From "Full Metal Jacket" also, I believe, came the bizarre business of a soldier's sardonically making a corpse his buddy. The war-is-surreal-hell moral of the movie reminded me of Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" - a film the young jar-heads watch with sexual intensity in Mendez's movie. But the scene in which the soldiers sit down to enjoy a home movie one Marine's wife has made - of herself being humped by their next door neighbor - that, we all agreed, was in the book.

I remember when "Battle Cry" came out in 1955. Unlike the Boy-Scout-clean soldiers of most WW II movies of that era, these Marines said Hell and Damn. And one of them actually shot the finger at some troops riding past - What a shocker!

A Jacksonville, NC Daily News reporter interviewed several Marines from the local base who saw the movie. Excerpt:

Their reviews seemed to be positive, especially concerning the portrayal of the relationship between Marines and how deployments and war are mostly about sitting around and waiting.

"I thought it was good," said Lance Cpl. Richard Usher, 19, from Tampa, Fla. "From what I know, it's accurate. They did say 'Oorah' way too much."

Lance Cpl. Josh Rader, 29, of Georgia, said he thought the movie was one of the more accurate portrayals of the Marine Corps, with the only more accurate movie being Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket."

"A lot of the training, they dramatize it more," Rader said. "I'd say it's probably more accurate."

Lance Cpl. Adam Blades, 20, with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, agreed, but took exception to the actors' ages.

"The actors were a little old," he said. "The majority of guys going over there are like 18 and 19. But it was pretty cool. As accurate as I've seen." +++
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Extremely powerful and moving War pic. A 'Platoon' for Gen X.
oypoodles27 October 2005
I saw this movie at a screening at UC Berkeley. Afterward the author of the novel it is based on held a Q&A.

This movie is a bit long, but so are most War films. It does, however, keep your attention the entire times.

This film is not just a War film, it is able to seamlessly mix comedy and drama, with such issues as Mental health and even a bit of ennui.

The characters are fully developed, each and everyone has an interesting story that is covered, briefly but perfectly. You get a broad spectrum of the kinds of men that go to war, what they left behind, and how it effects them when they return.

The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and Sam Mendes' direction is pitch perfect.

Jakc Gyllenhaal gives an astounding performance, as does Jamie Foxx, but it is Peter Sarsgaard that steals the show, with a heartbreakingly subtle ghost of a performance.

This is definitely a must-see.
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a worthy effort but seems to be lacking
Special-K8819 December 2005
Gritty story based on the true life experiences of Marine recruit Anthony Swofford, a naive teenager who gets more than he bargained for beginning in basic training, then a long and hellish nightmare of combat after he's shipped off to Kuwait during Operation Desert Shield. Well-crafted, strongly acted, and extremely political the film certainly holds your interest, but the script is unfocused, the subject matter never truly compelling, and the momentum slows more and more as it goes along. Gyllenhaal is respectable as the reluctant Marine who finds himself in over his head, while Foxx is a powerhouse as his gung-ho sergeant. Starts off strongly, but gradually becomes conventional and loses its way. **½
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The Vietnam Vet On The bus
azpaul5019 January 2010
I don't think many people caught the meaning of the Vietnam Vet in the biker vest who asked to sit for a moment on the bus. For returning Vietnam Vets there wasn't much celebration but rather an isolated trip back into anonymity. For that brief moment, the Vietnam Vet saw and felt what he should have years earlier... affirmation and recognition. I am sure it was an intended (and embedded) allusion to that injustice. For me, it hit a chord of sadness I didn't know I had. For that moment in the movie I was riding that same bus... along with thousands of other veterans. I say thank you and well done in the making of this movie.
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Distortion and Disappointment
NewMillenniumllc8 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Having served three years in the Marine Corps as an enlisted man, two in Vietnam with an infantry company in combat, I found the film to be a major distortion of the Corps. The film generally sets out the Corps as a unit that has no direction and their officers and staff NCO's are idiots (i.e the Bn Commander acting like a rock star during his speech to the troops in the tent). I assure you this simply not the case. I spent 27 months in Vietnam and never saw anyone in that type of setting that conducted themselves anything other than serious and professional. As aside, during my time in Nam I had six Bn commanders, so I know from experience these facts.

In addition, the film suggests that the Corps operates with poor equipment, and again I assure the reader the equipment may not be the latest (such as the Army enjoys), but it always operational, notwithstanding normal wear and tear issues. A great example is the battery problem shown in the film. Being a 2531 field radio operator, I take exception to that scene in the film. No properly trained radio operator ever goes into the field without two batteries, both of which are checked for charging prior to leaving a rear area. This is only one of numerous such operational distortions in this movie, which leaves the viewer wondering about the professionalism of the Corps.

Being somewhat of a film buff I found the entire film to be fragmented (poorly edited, poorly filmed - almost surreal), and without any direction to guide the viewer. Finally, the acting was shallow at best, including I am sadden to say, Mr. Fox's performance. Comparing this film to "Full Metal Jacket," which I found to be factual and well executed, is like comparing a college freshman film director's work to one of the greats like Houston.

This film served no one, not the viewing public, not the actors and other technicans who worked on the film, and most certainly not the Marine Corps. Honest critical thinking about war and the military presented in a film is always welcomed by an informed society, but historical distortion pretending to be art is simply that, a pretender.
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"We are still in the Desert..."
WriterDave8 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
It's that haunting final line of "Jarhead" that pierces the viewer most. Sam Mendes' superb adaptation of Anthony Swofford's novel is the best and most artistically astute "grunts-eye-view" of modern warfare since Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket." Mendes successfully does for Desert Storm what Kubrick did for Vietnam.

We are provided here with a full array of the varied types of men (the bored, those looking for a way out, the slightly crazy thrilled at the chance to blow things up and kill people, those with some vague sense of the honor serving one's country has brought to generations past) who go to war, and how in the end "All wars are different, but all wars are the same." Expertly displayed here is the utter futility of our modern wars in the Middle East. Most of the film's runtime is dedicated to the boredom the Marines experience as they train endlessly in the desert to fight some distant enemy that never really shows his face. The war is quick and the men are sent home without ever firing a shot at the enemy, yet, as it is so beautifully noted, "We are still in the desert" and men and women are still being sent to fight a war for what....oil? Oh, and the oil is beautifully on display here, lit up at night across the desert sands and raining down on soldiers and corpses alike with wanton abandon. Cinematographer Roger Deakins takes over nicely for the late Conrad Hall as Sam Mendes cohort in capturing jaw-droppingly beautiful cinematic compositions and painting them on the big screen.

Some have complained that "Jarhead" lacks an emotional core, but I dare you to find more emotional scenes than Jake Gyllenhaal coughing up a mountain of sand in a frenzied nightmare, Peter Sarsgaard cowering in the tower in the midst of a psychological breakdown after not being allowed to take the sniper shot he has been training endlessly to take, or one of the final scenes where a nameless Vietnam vet hops aboard the bus as the Marines come home to cheers and a parade in a sad and haunted attempt to experience the hero's welcome he never received for his war.

All war movies are not the same, and this one is a bitter cut above the rest.
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Jarheads Can Take It.
rmax3048237 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
There's a scene in which Swofford and his fellow Marines are watching the scene in "Apocalypse Now" in which the Vietnamese village is attacked by napalm-bearing helicopters and the gooks are all blown to pieces in a shower of bullets and jellied gasoline. The Marines are cheering wildly and the killing. They couldn't be happier that the natives are being fried. That's what's supposed to happen to the enemy.

They missed the whole ironic point of the scene, of course. The world is simply not a Biblical one of clear good and evil. But if they missed the point, it's not simply because a lack of sophistication and a desire to destroy is part of their adolescent nature, but because they now belong to a system that reinforces that view.

I think I kind of missed the point of THIS movie myself. I'm not sure why it was made because it doesn't tell us much that's very new. The scenes in boot camp, I'm absolutely certain, were vital to the development of Swofford's character and those of his colleagues but it's not very new. We've seen it before in movies like "Full Metal Jacket." Not that it's filled with clichés -- the bragging Texan, the Brooklyn wise guy. Those are absent. It's just that there's nothing much to replace them. A football game that must be played in heavy chemical suits in 110-degree heat for the TV cameras looks, sounds, and probably is real enough, at least until the Jarheads start ripping off all their clothes while the cameras roll. Other incidents, like a truck full of parachute flares that explodes accidentally on Christmas Eve, are a little weak in credibility although, okay, maybe it did happen.

The film shows us that the Marines are bored to distraction while waiting to be deployed in a combat area. There is an interesting description of how latrine waste is dealt with. But it's a little more disgusting than it is funny. The antics of the bored aren't very funny to a mature audience either. And there's very little drama.

Jake Gyllenhaal I don't find to be a very appealing actor, although I haven't seen him in anything else. Peter Skarsgaard is fine, and so is the staff sergeant.

Chris Cooper, as a cheer-leading officer, is GENUINELY funny because he's not trying to be. He asks his troops something like, "What do we do with the enemy?" "Kill 'em!" "I must be going' deaf because I can't HEAR you!" "KILL 'EM!" "Eww, now I got a real (erection)." The movie needed more scenes like this. The first time most of us probably heard that routine -- I can't hear you! -- was either in second grade or at a summer camp in the Poconos. And here are these bemuscled Behemoths eagerly playing the same game, so steeped in a subculture that promotes blowing heads off and producing "the pink mist" that they don't realize the reptilian level at which their brains operate.

That's not to demean the Marine Corps. We need a Marine Corps, and in order to do the job they may have to do they must be trained to do that job without hesitation, in the unswerving belief that it is the right thing to do, the Biblical thing to do. And they're not "retards" or dummies who are easily brainwashed either. I taught at Camp Lejeune for a few years and was never disappointed in their cognitive abilities.

The problem isn't with the Marine Corps or with the young people who buy into the organization's values but with a larger and deeper system that makes the Marine Corps and its members necessary. It's a system rooted in human nature that knows no national boundaries and doesn't recognize uniforms.

But that raises Big Questions that a movie like this, of essentially ethnographic ambition, isn't designed to deal with. The spirit of Camus hovering overhead notwithstanding, the movie is careful to avoid controversial considerations. Skarsgaard says, "**** politics. We're here, and that's that." What we get out of this movie is a picture of day-to-day life as it was for Swofford. And the photography is splendid. Otherwise, it left me a little unfulfilled.
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'Jarhead'—The real 'suck'
nprovenzo13 November 2005
In 1987, Time magazine ran an infamous cover that consisted of a marine in his dress blue uniform—with a blackened eye upon his face. The cover was intended to depict the shame befallen the marines after the Clayton Lonetree spy scandal and it was met with outrage—how dare Time sucker-punch the entire Marine Corps because of the crimes of just one of its members? Yet after seeing the movie "Jarhead," Anthony Swofford's autobiographical account of the marines during the first Gulf War, a black eye is the least of the marines' problems.

The fundamental theme of Jarhead's portrayal of marine life is that heroes do not exist. One cannot depict the Marine Corps accurately without noting that at least some of its members perform feats of strength, endurance and bravery, and that to build an entire institution of such men, certain virtues are required. Yet like Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, a movie acclaimed for its supposed depiction of Viet Nam-era marines, none of these men and certainly none of these virtues are to be found.

Instead, what one finds in Jarhead are empty men who drift though life, denied of what they truly want, and who choose to make up for it in emotional outbursts and sadistic and debased pleasures. Again and again, this is what Hollywood sees when it looks at the marines.

Yet as far as I can tell, there's no massive backlash by marines against this movie—in fact, I'm amazed at the positive reaction many marines have had. Are these marines so starved for heroes—so hungered for a portrait of their lives in uniform that they will find merit with those who portray the character of their commitment as utterly bereft of meaning or purpose, simply because the actors put on a marine blouse or use a jargon that rings familiar?

I served five years in the Marine Corps during the time Jarhead was set and I can certainly recount stories, both humorous and horrific. But overall, if I had to characterize my and my fellow marines' service, it would be the honorable commitment to the betterment of one's self and the defense of the American nation. The men I worked with might not have talked about it everyday. There might have been the occasional breach of conduct or character, and some may have even failed miserably in achieving the standard of excellence that is the hallmark of the corps.

Yet overall,(and in the metaphysically significant sense—the only sense that matters in art) almost every marine I knew was in the corps for a purpose and that purpose was good, noble, and just.

That's why I, for one, was proud to wear the marine uniform, and that's what no Hollywood movie that I know of has ever been able to accurately capture in a film about the marines. Given the freedoms the marines have fought so valiantly over their history to preserve, it's a tragedy they haven't received better from Hollywood in return.
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A Powerful Statement on the Psyche of the Warrior
alsmithee229 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
“A man fires a rifle for many years, and he goes to war. And afterward he turns the rifle in at the armory, and he believes he's finished with the rifle. But no matter what else he might do with his hands, love a woman, build a house, change his son's diaper; his hands remember the rifle.”

This is the essence of Jarhead. It’s not about peace, it’s not about war. It’s not about governments, Iraq, or morality. It’s about the people, those who are bred and trained to kill someone and the ramifications of that instruction.

Make no mistake about it; a human does not inherently want to kill. Studies have shown that there is an impulse that makes a person hesitate before killing another (whether this is nature or nurture is another argument). All armies understand this; the way they take a civilian and turn them into a soldier is by beating and sweating it out of their recruits until they are a well-oiled machine. But what happens to these men when this part of their being is torn from their bodies?

As Swofford (played subtly but sublimely by Jake Gyllenhaal) goes from boot camp to sniper school to Iraq and then home again, we see thousands of images of destruction and the loss of innocence as these men are bred to kill. Swoff’s family, wrecked by his father’s ruined psyche (incurred from Vietnam). Swoff hit by his drill sergeant for uttering an independent (and anti-authoritarian) thought. Swoff laying in the mud as Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jaime Foxx) chews out a dead man who, while training with live fire, could not control his urge to run and as a result, got killed. Swoff and the marines cheering on the Valkyries of Apocalypse Now. Swoff almost killing a friend because the poor guy messed up.

Marines (the Jarheads, that is) don't see this as bad. When Swoff is transferred and stumbles upon a man being branded, he believes that he, too, is to be branded. Troy, played by Peter Sarsgaard, tells him not to worry; to be a part of this glorious tradition, he has to earn it.

And Swoff laps it all up. He’s hooked. He wants to see the Pink Mist, the splatter of brains when the sniper hits his mark.

Sam Mendes (director of American Beauty and Road to Perdition) lays it on a bit thick at parts, but it’s necessary to the point being made. Endless seas of sand reflect the boredom of the soldiers as they await their orders. A horse walking through a burning oil field, covered in petroleum, sees Swofford and the two become one. White and non-white soldiers channel their will to fight through a scorpion fight. And in the end, it all breaks down when they finally see some action, just as the war is ending.

Why does Troy break down in the end? Why, when the responsibility of picking off an Iraqi official is taken away from him, does he attack his commanding officer? He won't even take the shot; that’s Swoff’s job. And yet, Troy breaks down and weeps. Because the one thing in life that he is good at, the one thing that he has been training himself for and desires, has been taken away from him. He has it in his grasp and it is taken away by the very people who taught him to do it.

And what about Sykes? He’s not the typical superior officer: he’s not R.Lee Ermey’s near-psychotic Drill Instructor, even though he humiliates Swoff for trying out for bugling (again, to show contempt for the non-marine, the innocent), nor is he a strict father-figure in the vein of Lee Marvin’s Major Reisman, although he does give good instruction and even speaks to Swoff man-to-man on one occasion. But what does he say? He could have a house, a car, a job with a great income, sleep with his wife every night, and time with his kids. So why is he here? “Because I love this job,” he says. “I thank God for every (expletive deleted) day he gives me in the corps. Hoorah.” This is both a parody of militaristic bravado by Sykes’s character and also an affirmation that he could not leave his job killing people even if given the choice.

So, what is it about this film that sticks out to me? The imagery is powerful, from the burning oil fields to the magic walls that open and close as they reveal pieces (or broken fragments, more likely) of home. The character development is also powerful, fully crafting over a dozen multi-dimensional marines (some for and some against the war) in a time when other films barely make one memorable character. But in the end, it’s the lack of answers. These men ask powerful questions – who runs the country, what am I fighting for, what are we going to do – not just of themselves or the situation or the audience, but of the soldier’s life overall. Beginning with conception, going through the boredom and terror of war, and ending when they return home, fulfilled and unfulfilled at the same time.

But even the end will not be the end for these Jarheads. After the war ends, Swoff and the men go home to find themselves in a parade. This is the joyous front, where people celebrate the warrior for a job well-done. Then they are faced with the dark half when a Vietnam vet jumps on their bus and salutes them. They are faced not with an option, but a mirror. This man – this sweaty, torn, and pathetic man – can’t escape Vietnam, even twenty years later, even when the country and his countrymen have forgotten him. And this is their future – Swoff, Sykes, and even Troy (despite getting branded and thus accepted) – without option. Their hands will always remember the rifle.
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Awful movie, bad acting, bad jokes, unreal atmosphere
dewit_jacco10 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
What an awful movie. I was so surprised to see IMDb-visitors rated it 7.3 average! Yeah, yeah, I know, I am not ye' movie critic, but I do believe I have somewhat of an opinion, when it comes to movies. In fact, I consult IMDb rather often, before renting or buying a new DVD and I must say that (with very few exceptions) I always agree with the IMDb-rating of a movie (of whatever kind, by the way). Having heard a lot about Jarhead and IMDb's rating (from 6 and up, the movies are mostly good - real good), I saw Jarhead yesterday and I was very disappointed. Sam Mendes is a good director and I was left in awe. SO bad! The acting was far below anything I have ever seen. There's a bunch of B-movies with better acting. Jokes were not at all funny, drama was pathetic, tension, what tension? Realistic? All a bunch of crap. The storyline wasn't that bad, but it died in bad acting, useless scenes (what was that about his horse? - covered in oil, ah, how sad ... and then?). The burnt bodies lying around, the dead of Troy (was that Troy, by the way? - who cares?), his girlfriend who left him, the idiotic so-called climax when they bomb that base on the end. I am sorry, but I have no idea why you dudes and dudettes rated this movie so highly. Maybe I didn't understand? Was it all a satire on some movie I haven't seen? Was it supposed to be sad, shocking, cult? There was absolutely nothing in this film that caught my attention (except for the fact that I was bored throughout the whole thing). Could someone please explain me why he/she thinks this movie deserves a 7.3 avg? Not for a moment Jarhead was interesting (no, please, don't give me the: that's-exactly-what-it-was-about-crap - to film boredom, one must not bore the viewer with bad acting, bad jokes and emphasizing so much on (the lack of) sexual relationships. Das Boot didn't need all that. And THAT'S a movie, worth 9 outta 10! Anyway, sorry I saw it. But even more sorry for the fact that 'the people who are supposed to know' rated it that high. Guess I'll take IMDb's ratings not so close to heart anymore.
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Disappointed is an understatement
betit19847 November 2005
I didn't actually think I could see a movie that equals the sadness of what i call the worst movie possibly ever >(open water)< But watching this horrible drawn out no action movie.... just made me flash back to the awful boredom I dealt with watching open water movie. There was more action at the concession stand. Please save your money donate it to your favorite charity or something . I wouldn't even watch it on on DVD it is Really That Bad. I wanted my money back! I felt like i had been ripped off & the only other time I can think OF that Equaled that disappointed was when i slept through Open Water. Sad Very Very SaD. If you like to watch a bunch of silly kiddish marines that very occasionally have a serious moment then this is a movie for you.

For the authors that gave this movie 8 - 10 stars all i can say is you must work for the film maker or somebody that is trying to make money from it. You got to be kidding me. Brilliant is ridiculious! It is a disgrace to our fighting men & women.
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Jarhead Brings Gulf War Home
LadyLiberty6 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I remember the Gulf War all too well. It was my own initial experience with a "television war" (those who are older doubtless remember that the Viet Nam war was the very first of those), and I was terrified of the repercussions even as I couldn't look away from the anti-aircraft tracers lighting up my TV screen.

Jarhead, as many people know, is a slang term for a US Marine. One of those newly minted jarheads is Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) who, largely to even his own surprise, finds himself enduring the rigors of basic training and then still more brutal training for his assigned specialty. Swoff tells one drill sergeant that he's in the Marines only because he "took a wrong turn on the way to college." His explanation doesn't go over well. Later, he does everything he can think of to drum himself out of the Corps.

Eventually, between the friendship and support of his partner, Allen Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) and the tough example set by his commander, Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx), Swoff becomes very, very good at his new job: a scout sniper. Needless to say, when the news breaks that Saddam Hussein has invaded Kuwait, Swoff's group is one of the first to be sent overseas.

The troops are welcomed to the desert by Lt. Col Kazinski (Chris Cooper) who commands a large segment of the Marines deployed there, and who tells them they must maintain constant vigilance and be ready to fight at a moment's notice. But months go by with nothing to do but drills and more drills, and the boredom, anxiety, heat, and desolation of their circumstances begin to wear. The men, of course, find some very creative (and usually very naughty) ways to entertain themselves and each other during this time. But when war is at last declared, they move out like the professionals they've been trained to be.

In the midst of burning oil wells and charred vehicle convoys, Swoff and his company make their way into enemy territory. They endure enemy fire and fear; fights amongst themselves and utter despair. And then, as suddenly as it began, the war is over. But despite the brevity of Swoff's experience (his own fighting war lasts only a little over four days), he and everyone else is changed by their experiences, and not all of those changes are easy to live with.

Jarhead gives us the firsthand experience of one soldier in the Gulf War with all of the attendant good and bad moments. As such, it's fascinating in and of itself. But director Sam Mendes has added dramatically to the story with some truly brilliant edits, some creatively managed flashbacks, and some astounding settings (the burning oil wells are bizarrely heart breaking even as the depiction on screen is awesome; the destruction wreaked by American bombs is graphic and moving). Of course, the fact that the film is based on a book written by the real Anthony Swofford about his own experiences in the Gulf War means that even Hollywood effects can't take away from the back of our minds that much of what we see is real, or at least was.

Jake Gyllenhaal has become a very good actor indeed, and holds his own with Oscar™-winner Jamie Foxx, whose performance could very well garner him another awards season nod for his supporting role. Peter Sarsgaard is also just terrific. The rest of the supporting cast — who have far more limited roles — is also good. In fact, the one real criticism I have about the film is that I would have liked to have known more about each of the men who served so honorably and who were so altered by that experience.

Jarhead isn't a war movie per se in the sense that it shows a lot of shoot 'em up action. But it may be one of the few war movies that actually conveys graphically the sheer boredom and hurry-up-and-wait that is the reality for many soldiers. And that the men perform so well despite the emotional obstacles of where they are and what they might have to do, and that they're a cohesive group when it counts no matter the flaws of each or any of them, is unquestionably honored here. I recommend Jarhead for virtually everybody.

POLITICAL NOTES: The comparison between the Gulf War and the current conflict in Iraq is inevitable, particularly as some continue to believe that Saddam Hussein should have been deposed in that war rather than as a part and parcel of the current and ongoing War on Terror. But the very real difference between the two is that in the first, Americans were viewed as the liberators of Kuwait. In the latter, some countries look at Americans as the despots who overthrew a sovereign nation. While perception doesn't win or lose battles, it does make the difference between victory and defeat in the court of public opinion.

Obviously, it's tempting to call that opinion inconsequential. But the reality of it is that such opinion can shape alliances, trade, and more for years to come thus making mere perceptions important to everything from national security to economic health. Regardless, however, Jarhead does serve one important function and that's to humanize our fighting men and to reinforce the fact that they are fighting for our country and for freedom. Whatever your opinion on anything else, I'd hope you'd remember at least that much.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Jarhead is rated R for "pervasive language, some violent images, and strong sexual content." Parents should be aware that the R rating is entirely warranted. But with that caveat, I'd recommend Jarhead for mature audiences who are interested in current events, the military, or just plain good movie-making.
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Terrible movie
mlbenson10 November 2005
This movie is full of foul swearing with some gratuitous sex thrown in for good measure, and it's populated by characters with absolutely no depth. I was almost hoping some of them would be among the few who were killed during Desert Storm.

I hope that people who have not been in the military don't conclude that this is a realistic portrayal of Marine Corps in combat. The behavior of the officers and senior enlisted men was totally uncharacteristic, and the lack of discipline displayed by the enlisted troops was outrageous.

I wasn't at all clear to me what this movie was supposed to be about. If there was a message there that war is bad (or good), it went cleanly over my head.
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Jarhead is strictly Hollywood
gdfamily30 November 2005
Jarhead is strictly Hollywood - a movie of "sound and fury, signifying nothing." On a recent radio talk show, I heard a friend of one of the Marines portrayed in the movie say that the guys hated the movie, that it was not an actual depiction. The movie depends on the F-- word (among others), nudity, alpha-macho-male conduct (preying upon one another in the barracks), and obscene cavorting in order to "entertain" the audience. I'd hate to think that all Marines serving in the Middle East are immature, crude and immoral individuals. The entire movie is designed to "set up" today's military as a cadre of idiots. Not a single admirable character in the bunch. Come on now! Is that reality? The only memorable scene for me was the burning oil wells, but that didn't make up for the disgust I felt for the waste of time and money.
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Young Men On A Journey Of Self Discovery
AnotherDay17874 November 2005
I went into the movie with high expectations. A well rounded cast and interesting story line brought me to the theater. What kept me sitting there, completely enthralled...everything. I'm always very critical, but i really cant think of anything to change. Even the supporting cast, characters who had a few lines, made an impact on me. You really felt like you were next to gyllenhaal and sarsgaard. Not only was it was filmed beautifully, but the dialog was completely in tune. It was funny and sad and suspenseful. It had everything and more. This was movie i have been waiting for all summer and into fall! This better get some nods come this December. Peter and Jake deserve it. They finally should get some recognition for their amazing performances!!!
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Awful is the right word
rudi96121 January 2006
I was so shocked by this movie because American Beauty was one of my favorite films.

Awful because it's: Predictable, Boring useless long exaggerated scenes, Useless scenes, The scene endings are not well done, Nothing impressing about it. This movie might have got some more credits if it were 10 or 5 years ago. But wrong time for it maybe.

I'm not sure about the ending because i couldn't stand until the end of the movie. I left 30 minutes before it ended. But i don't expect it to get better at the end.

Again, maybe i was a bit disappointed because i expected much more from this great director, but this movies does not either entertain and make sense to someone looking for an intelligent film.
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Nothing like the Marine Corps
Joshw-77 November 2005
As a Sergeant of Marines, this movie is an insult to my Marine Corps. A civilian may believe this movie; A Marine would have some strong words for the screenwriter. The Marine Corps is an honorable and disciplined organization. The Marines are the most effective military organization in the world. To truly understand the Marine Corps, you have to be a Marine. Becoming a Marine was by far the hardest thing I have accomplished. I love my Corps and I would rather someone spit in my face than believe this over dramatized, Hollywood movie. Without spoiling this so-called movie, I'll say this 10% is true, 80% is fiction and 10% is previews and credits. Hollywood must believe American's are fools, for releasing such a disrespectful portrayal of The Marine Corps. Semper Fi
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