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Jake Gyllenhaal……….Anthony ‘Swoff’ Swofford
Jamie Foxx……….Sgt. Siek
Chris Cooper……….Lieutenant Colonel Kazinski
With every war, it seems, comes a series of war movies about it. And until now, the first Gulf War had lacked a film about it. Into this void of war movies about that particular battle comes Jarhead.
War films can be divided into two groups in the same manner that there are two types of mafia movies. The first type of war film involves the sort of myth-making about men at war. It’s generally awash in deep philosophical undertones about war and the men who fight it. The other kind are about the effects of war have on the psyche of the men who fight it.
Saving Private Ryan is the first type of film, as it has the sort of understated philosophical and mythological tones about war that make it a masterpiece of World War II film-making. Platoon and Full Metal Jacket deal with this subject extensively in the second type, as the Vietnam War proved to be the sort of tapestry this sort of war movie would be woven upon.
Jarhead is the film adaptation of Anthony Swofford’s memoirs about his military career. A third generation Marine, he entered the military with high hopes and left a different man than before. Portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal, we follow “Swoff” through boot camp and into Operation Desert Storm, where modern warfare has changed a bit.
As the war goes on, Anthony and his colleagues see modern warfare and its changes firsthand. Whereas foot soldiers were the bread and butter of warfare from WWII to Vietnam, airpower and tanks have made ground warfare a bit different in the first President Bush’s war against Saddam Hussein. Jarhead is less of a war movie than it is a psychological drama; it’s more about how the men handle war than how they fight. And with plenty of great acting to go around, Jarhead seems to be an early candidate for the first great war movie for its particular war. And it would be, too, if not for one thing: we’ve seen almost everything in the movie before.
From the first act in boot camp and sniper school, which is a remake of Full Metal Jacket for the most part, to the last two-thirds, which mirror the hopelessness and absurdity of war featured in both Platoon and Apocalypse Now, Jarhead feels like a greatest hits of modern war movies rather than something completely different. For a generation, this was an introduction to modern warfare as millions of children wrote letters to soldiers, tied yellow ribbons around their trees, and watched as superior airpower changed the way wars were fought and won. For a whole new war comes a mish-mash of parts of familiar movies; its poor story-telling from a director whose done better. But what Sam Mendes does best is coax great performances from talented actors, which is the strength of Jarhead.
Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx and Peter Sarsgaard turn in memorable performances in the main roles of the film. Chris Cooper manages to steal some scenes as well; his initial speech to the soldiers as they prepare during Operation Desert Shield is chilling. There’s a definite chemistry in the air between his actors, and Mendes allows them to tell their story without any complicated camera tricks or plot contrivances.