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on 10 January 2008
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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on 3 June 2006
This film didn't get great reviews when it was in the cinema and I really don't understand why. It gives a brilliant sense of the desert, the waiting, and finally the fighting. Sam Mendes directs this film so well with the blinding white sands of earlier scenes contrasting the black oil later on. The sniping scene is incredibly tense and the film cleverly blends comic moments with a very real story. All this plus a killer soundtrack of classic songs (none of which seem to feature on the soundtrack album!)
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on 10 June 2006
When I heard Jarhead was being filmed by Sam Mendes, one of my favourite directors, I decided to read the book it was based on. The novel, also called Jarhead, was brilliant and I couldn't wait to see how Mendes' film would turn out.

When the film came out, the reviews weren't bad, but they didn't seem to reccomend anything about the film either. Most reviewers seemed to focus on the fact that the film didn't directly imitate the novel and wasn't as good. But then when has the film ever been better than the novel?

Jarhead is tonally very different from the book, as the film seems to look for a more comedic side to war. Perhaps if the film had been made closer to the novel it would have been better. But Jarhead is still a masterpiece. It has no faults whatsoever: the acting (particularly from Jamie Foxx and Peter Sarsgaad) is amazing, the storyline moves along at a quick pace and the cinematogrophy is the best I have ever seen. Those who complained the film was boring are missing the point: the desert scenes are meant to seem boring. In my opinion, Mendes was just trying to convey how boring life was for the soldiers "fighting" in The Gulf War.

As some others have said, this is one film that will get better with age and will be regarded as a classic in years to come.
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on 28 March 2006
I would really recommend anybody to watch this film as soon as they can. The acting is great as Jake Gyllenhaal and Jamie Foxx are both top-class in the acting industry. This film has excitement, humour and it is highly realistic. It is not like other war films which are mostly unrealistic and and all have happy endings etc. The fact that this is like real wars, makes the movie more tense because anything could happen. I would also like to point out that the soundtrack to the movie is great. These are some of the songs that are on the soundtrack: Don't Worry Be Happy, Bang A Gong (Get It On) and Jesus Walks by Kanye West. Not only are the songs fantastic, they are fitted into the film beautifully. Jarhead is also the perfect length (123 mins) which means that you can watch it over and over again and you will not get bored. You should buy this film as soon as you can!.
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If you are expecting an easy or simply movie go elsewhere. This movie is really all about ambivalence. Just like the book it describes the experiences of a young marine in the gulf. What is uncomfortable is it shows what young soldiers are really like, what they want (sex and fighting), how they talk (**** or *******) and how their responses to the experience of war changes them. I agree with ther reviewers who say this is not a recruiting movie, but nor is it really an overt antiwar movie. It is faithful to the book (which is very graphic) and leaves the same questions and ambivalence. It does not allow comfortable stereotypes to the usual extent - war is not glorified but it conveys some of the extreme adrenaline rush - the same marine can be gung ho with a lust for killing, then sensitive, then callous, then a simpering wreck - so which is he? Does it borrow from other films? It is a war movie - how many ways can you convey a bullet whizzing by? So yes there is a bit of Private Ryan, Platoon, Apocalypse, Catch22 and FMJ in there - is that a bad thing?

If you want to avoid upsetting all you preconceptions and oversimplificatiopns then do not buy either the movie or the book.
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What can you say about a movie that has so many fine ingredients? This is all the hallmarks of a great movie - great director, terrific acting, epic cinematography, relevant message. And yet without a real narrative to hang on, this is a movie about the atmosphere - in particular, the cumulative effect of atmosphere. It will depend on the viewer if that atmosphere is enough to sustain interest.
Jake Gyllenhaal is terrifically convincing as the naïve young `average young man' who joins up instead of going to college. His journey is the lynchpin of the movie, and he makes it work. He starts off in the usual drill sergeant shouting at recruits type scenes, and finally gets to the Gulf. There, the movie is about the waiting. The boredom and frustration of being built up to act, and then sit on their heels unable to act.. Problem is, in convincingly conveying the boredom and frustration of the men, the viewer is equally bored and frustrated. The war starts, and yet the frustration is never truly released for the group of marines, and in the final scenes the end is somewhat bleak to say the least. The cream of the most macho soldiers are made to look impotent.
This is a timely look at what some of the pressures must have been like - there are probably also parallels to be made with today's conflict, even though the situation is quite different. As the lead says towards the end - Every war is different - and every war is the same.
So is this enough to spend your two hours on the couch..? The answer is probably only just - there was more that could have been made of these memoirs. But accepting its flaws, its probably still interesting enough to get through - just not if you are an action junkie!
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HALL OF FAMEon 1 March 2006
The film 'Jarhead' is based on a book of the same name by by Anthony Swofford; both the book and the film are bound to make some people angry. A Marine sniper (STA) during Desert Storm I in the early 1990s, he recounted his experiences there with vivid emotion, weaving in his experiences of boot camp, adolescence, and civilian life after the Corps in the process. This is now a major motion picture chronicling many aspects of his story, with significant differences.
It was apparent in the book, and carries over to the film that Swofford has a chip on his shoulder - something he'll most likely readily admit. He has a 'bad attitude', and in fact revels in it. One wonders if this is a product of his war experiences, his Marine Corps training, or his upbringing. At one point his mother, who never really liked the idea of her son being in the Marines, but who wouldn't stand in her son's way, said 'I lost my baby boy when you went to war.' She described Swofford as being sweet and gentle prior to that, and angry and unhappy afterwards. One wonders how much of a change is there - if one can take the stories at face value, this is the same boy who had a fist-fight with his father over going in the Corps at the age of 17, and who had Marine Corps decals put on his shirts as a child. One of his drill instructors even gave Swofford what he considered a great compliment - 'you'll be a great killer someday.'
I make the caveat that one might not be able to take all of this at face value, because like many men in this kind of situation, Swofford is likely to exaggerate - making some pieces more dramatic and other pieces less so. Swofford recounts many tales of men in his sniper platoon who had adjustment problems after the war; one can but wonder if that is true for Swofford, too. Also, Swofford admits to being willing and able to lie if the cause is, in some internal sense, justified - his dealings with brother, in the Army in Germany who later died of cancer, is a case in point. Then we have the 'made in Hollywood' aspects of the film that mean this can be no documentary, but has to be dramatised. In fact, truth is probably stranger (not necessarily better or worse) than what is portrayed on the screen.
Regardless of the details which may or may not be completely true (and, as with many autobiographical pennings, some of the details are necessarily changed), the emotion certainly is. Perhaps the strongest point that comes across is a sense of disappointment and cynicism - that Swofford has ideals and goals is not at issue, although he does downplay these (he doth protest too much sometimes); but his experiences in the Corps and in the war were not what he dreamed. He mentions at various time the recruiting posters and campaigns - while it is true that Marine Corps never promises an easy life (quite the opposite), rarely does one learn prior to entry that one might end up being on the stirring end of the latrine clean-up detail; of human-refuse dump ablaze and blowing all over the place.
Just as in the book, the film gives one a sense of some of the problems that the 'average' grunt faces in combat situations. This war was very different from Vietnam, of course, but some of the issues are the same - interminable waiting, equipment malfunctions (if it isn't just plain missing), fear and bravado in a strange mix, questioning and ambiguity as to the value of the war, the cause, and even their own lives. The Desert Shield/Desert Storm situation is reflected in the page numbers of Swofford's book and the timing of this film - a lot deals with the Desert Shield portion, the hurry-up-and-wait aspect; surprisingly little time is spent with Desert Storm itself, as it was on and over so quickly, relatively speaking. There is a lot of psychological drama in this film in the waiting aspect; there's also a strong undertone of the absurdity of war.
Stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Anthony 'Swoff' Swofford, Jamie Foxx as Sgt. Siek and Peter Sarsgaard as Troy do an excellent job in their respective roles. Foxx turns in a really good performance, and this must be the year for Gyllenhaal. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) takes a tough book and turns it into a tough film, which is not going to replace a film such as 'Full Metal Jacket' or 'The D.I.' for quintessential Marine film, but will most likely in get top billing among many for the portrayals and situations, especially some of the more bizarre and incomprehensible bits.
Again, while there is undoubtedly exaggeration here, and one must take some of Swofford's tales with a grain of salt (or, perhaps sand), there is realism and truth in the feelings these situations engendered. I can understand the anger of Marines and other military who read the book and will see the film and feel a sense of betrayal, but I can also understand those who feel that Swofford is saying what others can't or won't say. This is a tough product. While I would never want the Marine Corps or military to be judged by this one thing, it is a perspective worth including in the overall mix. Snipers have a reputation for being a bit on the fringes anyway, and Swofford's story in that regard is very true to form.
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on 27 March 2006
I watched this upon its release in the cinema and I have to say that I rate it highly. It is a pull no punches account of the first Gulf War told from the perspective of a Marine grunt. It is well shot and the acting is above par. The scene where the pills which the soldiers are given to deal with the chemicals the Iraqis could use which caused Gulf War Syndrome is a highlight of the film. Highly recomended!
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on 25 April 2006
This highly underrated film will come to define the (first) Gulf War in a way that Apocalypse Now defined Vietnam. That is not to say that it can yet be elevated to that lofty status, but that it captures and evokes the time with brutal cynicism mixed with a taste for the surreal in a similar way to Copola's masterpiece. In many ways it also resembles Full Metal Jacket, beginning as it does in the training camp with the anonomous 'jarheads' being put through the paces by a tyrannical drill sergeant. Where it surpasses Kubrick's vision is its ability to translate the process of dehumanisation onto the battle field engagingly, albeit with a more contextual message.

Mendes's Jarheads are mere ordinance in a technological war. Trudging across the desert they encounter the burnt-out convoys hit by US laser-guided bombs, its victims anonymous, probably civillian. Their's is a modern war where the enemy is unclear, where the battle is won from the air, and their experience is defined by their never having shot their rifles. It deals with a generation of disenfranchised young men brought up to believe in American superiority but who never had to fight to achieve it. Many will leave unable to consider themselves a hero in a country obsessed by heroism, and some are left, finally, in despair at the seeming futility of it. Having been moulded into testosterone-fuelled, unthinking (hence 'Jarhead'), killing-machines, the war for many of them is one of boredom and frustration.

Where the film is really elevated is in its highly stylised vision of the desert, unrelentingly oppressive in stark, unflinching white. Its use of contemporaneous music is also clever, even if one character comments that they don't even have music to define their age in the same way that Vietnam did. Nirvana's 'Something in the Way' accompanies a terrifying dream sequence where Swofford goes to be sick in the mess hall sink, but unleashes a torrent of sand instead of vomit. Equally brilliant is the marines offloading their munitions into the sky to Public Enemy's 'Fight the Power' in an archly symbolic vision of end of the war celebrations. There are many entirely cinematic conceits such as Gyllenhaal's protagonist Anthony Swofford encountering a oil-covered horse in the mecadamised apocalypse of a sabotaged oilfield. This seemingly offers the bewildered Swofford an almost mythological dimension to his experience, but this is soon debased by a drunken party. Swofford often seems on the verge of some kind of epithany but is misguided by the sensless machismo of 'The Core'. This theme is best realised in the brutal irony of the scene where the marines are shown patriotically chanting to Apocalypse Now's famed Ride of the Valkaries helicopter assault, apparently unaware of its subversive connotations and highly seduced by the spectacle of American military might ('Shock and Awe').
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on 25 August 2006
For the majority of watching this film i had the constant nagging question of whether this was a pro or anti war statement, however to my emense satisfaction it was neither. I was unaware that it was based on a memoir and now intend to read it. Thomas Newman always impresses me with his emotive music, so a good choice to add to the stunning cinematography.

its true that not much happens, but, then again, isn't that the point? The marines are driven crazy by intense training, the heat, the isolation. the constant reminder of danger and yet lack of action against it.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the character beautifully and subtly, quietly and disturbingly changing under the conditions around him. Endearingly there is some quiet joking and humour that might make you smile to yourself. Try this on rental to see if you have a taste for it, since there are such stark contrasts in opinion.
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