ANDREW CLARKE Despite the gnashing of teeth across the Atlantic about this film, Jarhead is a completely non-judgemental look at life in the military in times of war.
Despite the gnashing of teeth across the Atlantic about this film, Jarhead is a completely non-judgemental look at life in the military in times of war. It highlights the absurdity of war, the bravery, the fellowship and the brutality that goes hand-in-hand with life in the forces.
Jarhead is based on a best-selling autobiography by former US Marine Anthony Swofford who served in Kuwait during Desert Storm and details life on active service purely from a soldier's point of view.
I have to confess here that I come to this film content in my belief that I would make the world's worst soldier. I think too much, I question too much and I hate joining things. One of the aspects about he film that really made me uncomfortable is the herd instinct on display.
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I find it amazing that all these people would go off and do something repellent simply because they are told to. Of course, my gut reaction of: “Doesn't anyone actually think for themselves? Doesn't anyone realise how dangerously wrong this is?” doesn't mean a thing because the whole training programme is designed to eradicate all those thoughts.
As footage in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 showed, a lot of these recruits go into the service believing in the maxim “My Country Right or Wrong” anyway - which is always a dangerous philosophy to adhere to.
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I suspect that Anthony Swofford may also be harbouring some doubts on the way that he and his colleagues were used during Desert Storm when they were told that their initial objectives was to secure the oil fields rather than look after the civilians.
In fact, in one memorable sequence American aircraft fly over Swofford's squad marching through the desert to attack enemy installations and one of marines shouts out that the right hand of God is going to destroy their enemies.
But when the squad climb the next rise they discover that the target was in fact a busy road taking hordes of Kuwaiti civilians away from the Iraqui army.
It's sequences like these and the casual brutality of their training which makes the strongest impressions.
Jake Gyllenhaal is outstanding as the somewhat naive recruit Tony Swofford, while Peter Sarsgaard gives a subtle performance as Troy his quietly unbalanced corporal. The film also nearly makes you reappraise the character of Staff Sergeant Sykes, played with stunning attention to detail by Jamie Foxx, who appears to be a callous tyrant during the training, but we see him as a caring company man later on who wants all his men to survive the coming war.
Much of the war is not facing the enemy. It is marching from place to place, clearing up after the airforce or waiting for something to happen. The waiting is what drives many crazy. They think they are indestructible - we know they are not. They think their leaders are always right - we also know that they are not.
British director Sam Mendes has fashioned a compelling, honest, look into the lives of the American soldier.
It's not an easy watch but it is brilliantly-made film.