- Sam Mendes
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Monday, January 16, 2006
Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) becomes a Marine after he gets lost in his way to college (as he dryly puts it) and is trained by Sgt. Syker (Jamie Foxx) to become a sniper. He is paired with Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), a member of his camp, to become his “eyes”. Soon Saddam Hussein attacks Kuwait and they’re all sent to the desert in Saudi Arabia, where they have to await the moment in which they’re called to the front as part of the Desert Storm operation.
The movie is based on Swofford’s best-selling novel (and expertly adapted by William D. Broyles Jr.) in which he recalls the real events surrounding his experiences as a Marine. But you might be surprised as to what those experiences amount to. Swofford and more than 500,000 soldiers were sent to the desert to do nothing for months. They were trained to be killers, they wanted to fight, and yet they had absolutely nothing to do but be ready. It sounds easy, but if you were out there it seriously fucked with your head. These are guys who get high by watching the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now. “Every war is different, every war is the same,” Swofford tells us in voiceover. And that’s exactly what this movie is about. It brings us a different perspective about what it is to be sent to a war. People returning from Vietnam or WWII could never forget what they went through when they had to fight and witness so much horror. But if you just have to wait... is that saner?
Jardhead uses a cynical approach to telling its story, mainly because of the personality of Swofford himself. But there’s a lot more to the absurdist tone than just trying to be witty. Surprisingly enough, this movie is not about taking sides or being heroic. It is, on the other hand, about the futility of wars and how they can affect so many lives for what... patriotism? What’s the meaning of it all? Mendes’s work here resembles more of Stanley Kubrick’s than it does Oliver Stone’s. And that’s just the right way to tell this story.
So what do soldiers do when they have so much time in their hands? They are trained, they read, they play sports, they masturbate, and then they masturbate even more. There’s a homoerotic vibe to the movie that is hard to miss. The lingo they continually use between each other almost always ends up referring to their penis; women are mostly portrayed as shallow and unfaithful; soldiers have to bond together much more than in ordinary circumstances given the lack of females around. It’s there, and it’s real, and it just adds another layer to an already interesting movie.
Ironically, the movie drags a bit once combat does start, but it’s nothing serious. The final montage is nothing short of brilliant, for it resumes what we have been presented for the last two hours beautifully.
Jake Gyllenhaal grows up in front of our eyes with this movie, and he’s extraordinary. Without going over-the-top, he embodies the changes and transformations that these guys go through with delicacy. He’s also charismatic and believable, a great leading man. Sarsgaard brings excellent support, especially in a pair of key scenes. Jamie Foxx, Lucas Black, Jacob Vargas, and the rest of the cast are very good as well, while Chris Cooper and Dennis Haysbert each appear briefly in a couple of scenes, all of which are memorable.
Great use of songs, by the way!
“Welcome to The Suck.”
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