I think Jarhead is going to take a few years to fully digest. Like a good wine that needs aging I’m not sure if we know exactly what we have on our hands right now. I do know for sure this was my favorite Jaime Foxx role yet. I also think this is a heavily complicated film, neither “against” nor “for” its subject of war.
If you’ve missed all the trailers Jake Gylenhaal plays Anthony Swofford, a real life marine or “jarhead” as they are affectionately called. We get to follow Swofford’s story from boot camp to Desert Shield thru Desert Storm. I had forgotten going into this movie the time frame of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and you too may find yourself surprised by some of the history. I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment so I won’t go into too much detail. It’s a story replete with laughs and tears, testosterone and manly hugs. Gylenhaal is above average in his portrayal of a Marine sniper, I can only recall one scene that didn’t really mesh with what I thought a Marine was.
The other standout for me in the film was Lucas Black as the country bumpkin named Kuhn. You may remember him from Friday Night Lights but he really shines here. He is all at once the most annoying guy on the planet and the archetype military man. He’s always got a little something extra to say, which both grates and delights. I just looked and he’s filming The Fast and the Furious: Toyko Drift so perhaps I’m overrating him. He may be working for cash exclusively from here on out. There are also two really good musical moments in this film, one from Nirvana and the other from Tom Waits.
What’s the number one reason to watch Jarhead? That would have to be Mr. Jaime Foxx as Staff Sergeant Siek. Having been around some hard core military types in my day I can tell you his portrayal is perfect. He’s insane and motivating in the same breath. He’ll cut you down to nothing to build you into a machine in the effective Marine manner.
It’s at this point that I should dive head first into the themes of Jarhead to give you an idea of what you are getting into. As I said before, this is a complex film that defies clear answers. I can’t say for sure what the message is other than chaos. It will stay with you long after you’ve left it. It is without a doubt a mindfuck, and I don’t use that term lightly. Jarhead wants to mess with you and does so effectively. It’s not that it’s particularly violent; it’s more the situation these young men are placed in. You’ve got a bunch of 19 and 20 year olds with heavy artillery and way too much free time on their hands. Add to that the fact they’ve been placed in a God-forsaken desert (literally!!) without a clear initial goal and you start to gather where the insanity comes from. You’ve got loneliness, depression, infidelity from loved ones back home, macho bastards who fight for sport, the camaraderie of about a half a million men, and the near constant threat of death or not seeing any action. It’s a long strange trip. The closest film relative to me of Jarhead is Apocalypse Now. Jarhead is prettier and crisper, but both of the films refuse to stick with a central theme. Now before you go throw a hissy about me calling this film the new Apocalypse Now please note that I said Jarhead needed a few years of aging to fully appreciate. Talk to me then.
When all is said and done Jarhead must be a heavy recommendation, if only to clarify what’s important to you and how you view the human struggle. I take no joy in knowing you may walk away scratching your head or looking for a bar but we both knew you’d have to grow up eventually. Welcome to the suck.