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Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx and Jake Gyllenhaal star in this critically acclaimed, brilliantly unconventional war story from Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes. Jarhead (the self-imposed moniker of the Marines) follows Swoff (Gyllenhaal) from a sobering stint in boot camp to active duty, where he sports a sniper rifle through Middle East deserts that provide no cover from the heat or Iraqi soldiers. Swoff and his fellow Marines sustain themselves with sardonic humanity and wicked comedy on blazing desert fields in a country they don't understand against an enemy they can't see for a cause they don't fully grasp.
Based on Anthony Swoffords excellent memoir about his experiences as a Marine Sniper in Gulf War I, Jarhead is a war movie in which the waiting is a far greater factor upon the characters than the war itself, and the build up to combat is more drama than what combat is depicted. To some viewers hoping for typical movie action, this will seem like a cruel joke. But its not. Its just the story as it was written, and if you liked the book, you will probably like the movie. If you didnt, then the movie wont change your mind.
The movie follows the trajectory of Swofford (played with thoughtful intensity by Jake Gyllenhaal) from wayward Marine recruit (he joined because he "got lost on the way to college") to skilled Marine sniper, and on into the desert in preparation for the attack on Iraq. No-nonsense, Marine-for-life Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jamie Foxx), the man who recruited Swofford and his spotter Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) into the sniper team, leads them in training, and in waiting where their lives are dominated by endless tension, pointless exercises in absurdity (like playing football in the scorching heat of the desert in their gas masks so it will look better for the medias TV cameras), more training, and constant anticipation of the moment to come when theyll finally get to kill. When the war does come, it moves too fast for Swoffords sniper team, and the one chance they get at a kill--to do the one thing theyve trained so hard and waited so long for--eludes them, leaving them to wonder what was the point of all they had endured.
As directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), the movie remains very loyal to the language and vision of the book, but it doesnt entirely work as the film needs something more than a literal translation to bring out its full potential. Mendess stark and, at times, apocalyptic visuals add a lot and strike the right tone: wide shots of inky-black oil raining down on the vast, empty desert from flaming oil wells contrasted with close-ups of crude-soaked faces struggling through the mire vividly bring to life the meaning of the tagline "welcome to the suck." But much of the second half of the movie will probably leave some viewers feeling disappointed in the cinematic experience, while others might appreciate its microcosmic depiction of modern chaos and aimlessness. Jarhead is one of those examples where the book is better than the movie, but not for lack of trying. --Dan Vancini
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Jamie Foxx stars as Staff Sergeant Sykes, a career soldier who is in command of an eight-man sniper team. There are four spotters and four shooters. Swoff is chosen as a shooter, while Troy becomes Swoff's spotter. The group trains endlessly until all the members of the team are experts at their craft. During their training, the Iraqis invade Kuwait, and Swoff's unit is sent to the Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield.
Upon arriving in the Gulf, the men find themselves with a little too much time on their hands. Time is spent by writing letters or playing football. In one instance, their football gets them into trouble, as Sgt. Sykes forces the men to put on their chemical warfare suits and play an entire game of football while members of the press look on.
After being in the Gulf region for several months with no action besides their own training, the war finally began in January, 1991. When the land campaign began, Swoff's unit was thrust into the fighting. Swoff and Troy were chosen to take out two Iraqi soldiers who were in a control tower. Making their way cautiously over the hot desert sand, they arrive at the perfect shooting site, 900 yards from their target. Having been given clearance to shoot, Swoff prepares to pull the trigger on his sniper rifle. However, just before he can shoot, another officer bursts through the door and informs Swoff and Troy that an airstrike is going to take out the tower. Despite all of their training and time spent in the Gulf, Swoff never got to fire his rifle in anger.
After the war, the group returned to the United States to many well-wishers who welcomed them home. One poignant moment at the end of the movie shows a Vietnam vet jump into Swoff's company's bus and shake hands with the men while telling them that they did a great job. One can sense that the Vietnam vet wished he would have received the same type of welcome twenty years earlier. Swoff's war lasted 4 days and 4 hours.
This is a very powerful movie. It compares closely to Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket". Both movies were told through the eyes of a single soldier. The accuracy of life in the desert is apparent throughout the movie, especially the parts where the soldiers are forced to deal with their boredom. The battle scenes are authentic as well, including the massive wreckage caused by the A-10 "Warthog" tank busters against Iraqi vehicles.
I recommend this movie. The acting, especially by Jamie Foxx and Jake Gyllenhaal, is very good, the combat sequences are realistic, and the story is compelling. Watch this very good movie and experience life in the Marines during Operation Desert Storm through the eyes of a Marine sniper.