Most of Anthony Swafford’s war time spent was on a war that never happened. Swafford recollects in an issue of Entertainment Weekly, that most of the time spent in the military was his superiors yelling fire in a crowded auditorium, spending time training, and bulking up, and training for nothing. “Jarhead” is one of the closest modern depictions of Don Quixote we can ever really see. A film about warriors training for a war that would never come, facing an enemy that may not have been there to begin with. But, Swafford’s story is depicted through a memoir that can be dictated through different eyes. For some it’s an anti-war message, for others it’s just a non-biased portrait of a man who never went to war despite being in the military during war time.
For a person like me it could be thought of as the former, but really “Jarhead” felt a lot more like a man who went to a war that never happened. It’s simply a man showing what he did in the military that was anything but combat. But, for me, in a sense Swafford proclaims battle, war, and basic military bravado is merely nothing, and a vast void. Nothing but machismo for a ridiculous result in the end, a result of nothing, absolute zero. Sam Mendes creates a stunning and gritty film that takes the non-fiction memoir and turns it in to a very good war dramedy about these miscreants and outcasts who formed a friendship while waiting their battle. Through this time spent they were psychologically juiced up to prepare for battle with screenings of “Apocalypse Now” and constantly being trained to take on enemies, and such futility is well handled through Gyllenhaal’s melancholy performance.
Gyllenhaal in his years of acting has a sheer smooth talent for starring as characters with no real life or future and he gives an excellent performance holding his own against the seasoned cast. Sam Mendes takes much of the visual style he used in his first two films and injects it in to this psychological war opus that less focuses on war and more focuses on the male entities built-up aggression and potentially damaging effects of not being able to release it while exploring the emotions of these soldiers whom join the military to feel adequate, important, and worthy–and asks “Is it all just an empty pursuit?” It’s a shame Mendes doesn’t direct very often. What the fuck are you doing with your time then, man? “Jarhead” is sadly a disappointing venture, especially when you take in to consideration the talent behind the camera and on the camera.
While it is a very good movie, it never rises to the occasion to be a great film, and instead of becoming a thought provoking bit of war satire, really just prefers to remain in the safety area not commenting on basically anything that they could have the chance to. And Mendes who directs, really just doesn’t take advantage of the immense visual opportunities in front of us. “Jarhead” is not entirely a war film per se, even though it does feature soldiers and some gunplay, and though it was firmly stated that it wasn’t, it still doesn’t give us everything that we look for in terms of story, and truly riveting plot development. Either way, Mendes gives yet another ace directing job and paints some amazing sequences on the screen, one of which being the rain of oil on the battlefield.
There’s an excellent cast of actors from Peter Saarsgard who pulls in yet another good performance, and Jamie Foxx who is hilarious as the drill sergeant who gets such a kick out of his job, he’d rather be there than at home. And Chris Cooper has a memorable cameo in the spirit of Duvall in “Apocalypse Now”. And in the end, Mendes takes a step back and explores these characters and makes us wonder if this meaningless journey was meaningless at all. Though, it’s not the best war movie ever made, it’s still pretty damn good, and Sam Mendes comes out of hiding to direct with skill as he always does and directs an excellent cast of great actors in to great performances. It’s disappointing, but still has much more quality than many films in theaters.