War movies used to fall cleanly into one category, then they started getting blurry, questioning the war, those in charge at every level, and even the soldiers themselves. Reality and confusion came to them and they edged more and more towards reality rather than dramatic interpretation.
With that comes Jarhead, based on the book of the same name which explores what it was like for the soldiers during Desert Shield and what happens when soldiers undergo intense training only to be left to do nothing but…well, more training.
Thanks once again to the ladies at Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema for helping me see this movie in such a good cinema. Huge screen, bombing sound, perfect for the film content.
So Jake Gyllenhaal is the current golden boy of Hollywood, he’s got unusual looks coming from the school of Robert Mitchum looks, kind of odd looking but you’re just drawn to those eyes onscreen. He’s also starring in some diverse and incredibly odd roles, brought on by his early starring role in Donnie Darko, a superb movie and one which he no doubt draws upon for his Jarhead performance.
Although you could say the roles are very similar, Gyllenhaal is still superb in this role. Intense, strong and showing the slow decline of the soldier on the edge of insanity and boredom. It’s interesting watching his changing attitude from trying to avoid being part of the Marines to actually finding something to prove, and all the way through his performance is utterly engaging.
The film really does bring across the way we, including the Army itself, treat Soldiers as commodities, not thinking of them as humans at all, just pawns to be thrown around. It also shows you the desperation and frustration that the soldiers face and how most of them, especially those higher ranks, consider it as more of a game than the deadly reality of war.
His performance is not the only strong one, many of the other actors stand out and Jamie Foxx gives another strong performance as the Staff Sergeant in charge of the team of highly trained snipers.
The first half of the movie is quite slow, and could well have been edited down to quicken up the pace a little and bring the soldiers to the point of Desert Shield. Yet in a way this delay heightens the affinity of the audience with the drawn out experience of both training and sitting around waiting. It’s not that the first half of the movie is that bad, just a bit too long, so when it comes to the second half when we really start to get to understand these soldiers, the wait that they experience is slightly tarnished by the wait we’ve experienced in the first half.
When they do arrive in Kuwait however, that’s when some of the best scenes of the movie happen, and some of the most shocking. As the team come across the convoy of escaping civilians you witness some of the best effects and set design you’ll ever see. Simple things such as the black powdered dust across the desert floor captures your eye from the moment you see the soldiers feet brush over it. The corpses and burnt out wrecks in that scene are so realistic it’s frightening. Having seen footage of some of the actual burnt corpses I couldn’t tell the difference.
The cinematography in this second half really excels, with the burning oil wells being the high point, well filmed and well edited. It produces some very powerful and thought provoking scenes, particularly the intensity at which Peter Sarsgaard erupts with anger during the actual sniper mission. In those moments I felt totally for those two characters and the raw emotion in both of them was superb to see on screen.
The second half was more uncomfortable and thought provoking than the rest of the film, and yet I really do feel that it needs that first half to allow these scenes to provoke such reaction. A very bleak vision of what our soldiers are and what they are asked to do.
One final nod though, the music. Jesus Walks is now on my playlist and is on my top rating now, it’s such a powerful song and matches the film perfectly.