Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Peter Sarsgaard
Universal Home Entertainment
Release Date: November 25, 2008
Fighting enemies that you can’t really see and for a cause that you don’t fully grasp. That is what the Marines were doing in the Middle East in the late 1980s and early 90s for months and then years (they were slated to be stationed here for only a couple of weeks). Does that sound familiar in our day?
Sam Mendes shows us why he won Best Director for American Beauty. He was born to work the camera and he throws his patented touches in the film to show us what he really believes is going on in the minds and dreams of these rattled soldiers. Rather than look for or fight the enemy they sit and play cards, talk about each other’s girlfriends, and play football the entire day while they should be at home with their families and attending college. Jake Gyllenhaal is Sawford (based on the true story of this man, who also wrote a book in 2003 about his experience) and Jamie Foxx as the battalion’s staff sergeant. Jarhead shows us what these soldiers did to make the time pass and how anxious one gets in the heat of battle.
Like Full Metal Jacket, Mendes takes the time to settle inside a U.S. Marine training facility. While inside, his direction is taught and the action is waiting to explode through its barriers. We expect the action to be fully fledged when the Marines travel to the Middle East but it’s subdued, resulting in a war film that plays and preys on psychological matters rather than guns and bullets. It’s a work of a true filmmaker when Mendes chooses subtlety over chaos. Don’t mistake his war film to be full of pansy scenes. No, not at all. His ability to instill inside each character, especially Swofford, an underlying madness is impeccable. In matter of fact, that elevates Jarhead to a chaotic sense that most war films thrive upon and only conquer when the use of explosion, guns, and bullets are used.
Robots that are told to continuously do a specific task usually do that task. But what happens when that task vanishes for some reason? The robots don’t know where to turn next. Marines are trained tediously and ruthlessly to kill their enemies, but when the enemy is not present what do they do? They wonder helplessly through barren deserts basked in a white steamy aura. Tears of frustration roll down the faces of soldiers who are supposed to show no signs of emotion. The Marine staff fills the heads of their soldiers with propaganda, all the while there’s nothing to fight.
It’s odd to see American soldiers playing football in gas masks, sitting around drinking alcohol while wearing a Santa hat. That unnatural behavior occurs while waiting for an enemy of any shape size or form to emerge. Fights and scuffles between fellow soldiers are more common. That type of behavior is what makes Jarhead one of the better war films this decade. It relies on psychological and sociological mishaps more so than the firing of a soldier’s M-16.
Jarhead takes the more unconventional route for a war film. Mendes creates a leisurely mood. Fusing together uncharacteristic visuals and slow motion shots, he evidently creates, at times, a peaceful environment. No recent war film has been able to capture such a scene than the one Mendes does in his film. It’s the oil well scene. Several wells have exploded creating serpents of dark smoke that eventually covers the afternoon glare. He literally creates a hell-like atmosphere as the soldiers dig the sands for any remains of the enemy. It’s a reassuring factor. Then out of nowhere a horse emerges covered in oil. It’s reassurance that war cripples nature. This is how Jarhead earns its merit of a good war film; it honors art over action.
Jarhead obtains a picture that has the same personality and tone of previous war films on Blu-ray disc. Like Black Hawk Down, Jarhead uses a technique that achieves within the picture a washed out tone. The entire film is always preoccupied with a very faint glare. Especially with scenes in the dark this factor can be noticed. There are only a few scenes in the film that benefit from this Blu-ray transfer, such as the oil well scene and a dream sequence involving Swofford. Everything other scene taking place in the desert has a barren feel to it, no quality of any real color. Earlier on, inside the military camp, colors are vivid and the movie feels alive. I found myself becoming familiar with this and I liked it this way. Why should the war sequences feel and look extravagantly happy. It isn’t as if we’re watching a musical war film.
Nothing to call home about here. I’m very, very disappointed with the disc’s special features. The HD-DVD version carried over all the special features from the two-disc special edition DVD, while the Blu-ray disc literally gets nothing. What we do get is two commentaries. One is with director Mendes, which is like any other commentary. The second, the more interesting of the two, sits down with the screenwriter and Swofford. When Swofford talks listen, he gives a stripped down conversation on what it’s really like to be a marine.
Bookmark any of your favorite scenes for future references. You can play them back anytime you like, even when the disc is ejected from the player.
Movie: 3.5 out of 4
Blu-ray disc: 2.5 out of 4