Ryan Chartrand

Right when you thought the “War on Terror” had lost enough publicity to push it deep into the back of your mind, “American Beauty” director, Sam Mendes, decided it was time to give America a taste of the Middle East, a glimpse into what the men and women of our country continue to endure as we go about our everyday lives. Mendes was wise enough to use the backdrop of the Gulf War to convey his message to America rather than display that which Americans are trying desperately to avoid. “Jarhead” is an attempt at a war flick unlike any other in the sense that its structure and storyline have never been touched upon, and for good reason. No director has dared to venture into the territory that Mendes has, and it causes his war story to require extensive character development and a meaningful storyline to create any effect on the diverse audiences that attend war flicks. In the end, “Jarhead” becomes as isolated as Marines in a desert and finds nowhere to go, forcing it to be left behind in a surprisingly forgettable experience.

Jake Gyllenhaal (“The Day After Tomorrow”, “Donnie Darko”) plays a newly enlisted scout/sniper Marine during the Gulf War who is as scared and lost as the rest of his platoon. His Staff Sergeant, played by Jamie Foxx (“Ray”, “Collateral”), melts his mental stability into a puddle of insanity. “Jarhead” consumes the movie with character development, a task that only an exceptional cast would be able to achieve. Gyllenhaal and Foxx prove themselves to be fine actors and, if anything, their performances will prove to be an excellent boost for their future projects. Foxx has a few moments where it appears as though the Denzel Washington protege has finally arrived. Unfortunately, “Jarhead” is unable to take these characters and their stories anywhere meaningful after two hours, which ultimately almost renders Gyllenhall and Foxx’s performances worthless.

“Jarhead,” like all of Mendes’ work, is quite beautiful in its stylistic direction. Mendes’ gift at creating cinematically superb sequences at the most opportune moments on film allow his work to truly shine. An essential element in his style is his use of silence during moments of absolute awe through the eyes of a marine witnessing sights no man or woman could ever dream of half way across the world. Gyllenhaal’s character stared into the vastness of the desert as they were first raided in a storm of explosions, the sand slowly soaring through the air and gently pressing against his face. Silence. A cascade of oil soaring into the air as the earth begins to rain the poisonous fluid in heavy amounts down upon the marines. Silence. Mendes took the Gulf War experiences that lives with thousands of former marines and transformed them into stunning cinematic sequences.

“Jarhead” easily distinguishes itself from other war flicks and is somewhat refreshing to experience. Its main underlying sub-story delved into the faithfulness of the Marines’ girlfriends and wives that were living what seemed to be galaxies away from them. The surprising lack of action in this disguised war flick could be its decisive downfall for those anticipating a heart-pounding, two-hour action film. The most redeeming quality of “Jarhead,” aside from Mendes’ stylistic direction, is its unexpected and excessively crude, yet entertaining, comedy that is exchanged between the marines. Not even the humor, unfortunately, is able to save “Jarhead” from a rushed resolution that leaves each loose end further away from being tied together.

Mendes’ formula is altogether certainly not impeccable and leaves his valiant attempt at conveying a symbolic take on war as meaningless as a grain of sand in a desert.

The Word on the Screen: C+

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.