QUICK TAKE: Jarhead (2005)

By Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 61%

PLOT: A newly minted Marine sniper is sent to Iraq as part of Operation Desert Shield, only to find himself slowly losing his mind as he waits for a chance to make his first kill.

If Three Kings was the Gulf War version of Kelly’s Heroes, then Jarhead is the Gulf War Full Metal Jacket.  It’s a glorious paradox: a war film where it looks like the hero may never get to fire his weapon.

Jake Gyllenhaal is phenomenal in the lead role of Swofford, but Jamie Foxx steals every scene he’s in, as Staff Sergeant Sykes.

There’s beautiful imagery in the film, from the oil fires in the desert, to an arresting dream sequence where sand makes an appearance from a very surprising place.

I don’t know why, but I empathized a LOT with the Swofford role.  He learns how to use his sniper rifle with deadly force, he finally gets shipped out to where the fighting is…and air power nearly makes him obsolete.  What are they even doing there if airplanes can end the battle in minutes instead of hours?

There’s a great line when someone hears a helicopter flying overhead, blaring The Doors from loudspeakers.  A soldier looks up with exasperation: “That’s Vietnam music…can’t we get our own music?”  These guys wanted to fight, to carve their place into the history books with honor, and blood.  They wanted to distinguish themselves from their fathers or grandfathers who fought in other faraway countries.  The soldiers in the Gulf War of this movie wanted to “do it right.”

Jarhead offers searing insight disguised by a simple story.  It puts me into the head of a soldier who wants to do the right thing, the honorable thing – hell, ANYTHING – and who finds himself frustrated.  It struck me, and still does strike me, on a level I never expected.  I don’t know if I’ve clearly elaborated that with this review.  But there it is.

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