BBC Home

Explore the BBC

1st October 2014
Accessibility help
Text only

BBC Homepage

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

reviews /  editor film review
editor content by: editor
Shock and bore.

Sam Mendes’ big-up to the troops follows the experiences of one ‘Jarhead’ marine in pre-Desert Storm Kuwait. Played by hunky Jake Gyllenhaal, he’s a book reader with a gift for target practice, who teams up with Peter Sarsgaard’s wild card sniper. The thrust of the story is dominated by this ‘buddy movie’ premise, with a lot of ‘all he ever wanted to be was a marine’ emotional bonding. Here is a war where nothing happens: the boys play football in protective suits, watch oil fields burn, or shoot their heavy artillery into the night sky sans shirts, abs pumping harder than the guns. All to a torturous, MTV-inspired soundtrack. Any comment on America, the situation in the Gulf, the oil crisis, or – whisper it – war itself is entirely absent.

In a staggeringly bold gesture, Mendes has the troops watch Apocalypse Now before they head off to Saudi Arabia, and references other great works like The Deer Hunter later in the film. Cringingly, this only draws attention to the banality of his own offering: one which is both shallow and criminally negligent. As a display of rippling torsos and manly horseplay it’s well up there. As a comment on the most serious issue facing civilisation since the dawn of time, this baby is neutered.

Skye Sherwin 12 January 05 rating of 1
Jarhead, released 13 January 2006.
Read members' comments related to this film.
Jarhead post 15
comment by dannyboy79    Feb 4, 2006
This film has its moments and Mendes does well to convey the frustration felt by the soldiers waiting to "get some".

In terms of performances Jamie Foxx is definitely the pick of the bunch, totally convincing as the Staff Sargeant who loves his career choice.

Ultimately I found the film lacking any real direction or intelligent observations on war, or the lack of it. Half an hour before it ended I was wondering what to get for dinner. Pretty forgettable...
complain about this page
Jarhead post 14
comment by kendo, man!    Jan 30, 2006
I have seen the film and read the book (some time ago). Its not about war today, its about a war that happened 15 years ago.
It bears very little similarety to the last Gulf war.

The point of the book was not the futillaty of war, but the unfairness of it. The ground troops in '91 spent five months waiting for a war that lasted less than 100 hours.

To tell the truth I didn't like the guy in the book at all. He had the problem a lot of military authors have. He seem to look down on others. He is much more likable in the film.

If you want a real look at military life, it's a better portrait than Any Dear Hunter.
complain about this page
Jarhead post 13
comment by Brendon    Jan 27, 2006
Mendes is incompetent. Deakins, the cinematographer, and Murch, the editor, carry a lot of weight for him.

My fave example? Watch the photo of the pregnant wife closely. No - I'm not just poining out a continuity error (snore, zzz, etc,) I'm showing a clue to how idiotic Mendes is. Can't even observe simple screen geography.

Post production geek terminology pun: "that shot was a flop, in both sense of the word."
complain about this page
Jarhead post 12
comment by Jakk1954    Jan 26, 2006
I enjoyed this film a lot, particularly the early scenes, and some of the set pieces in the final third of the film.It felt over-long, however, and couldn't stop itself making references to other films - the wild gun-shooting party at the end, and the fireworks party had shades of Apocalypse Now, MASH and a few other films; and the horse in the desert, while visually wonderful, made me think somehow of Peter Schaffer's Equus.

I think it felt long perhaps because of the narrow focus of emotions, and the straightforwardness of the story - a film with more complex story and a broader spectrum of character drama to explore would have merited this length. As it is, they could have shaved 30 minutes without hurting the film.

A good, tight, script, I thought. And the direction was very strong. Some of the visual set pieces were fantastic - especially the oil rain and the blackened soldiers stumbling around in the oil-drenched sand.
complain about this page
Jarhead post 11
comment by Steph_Le_Cocq    Jan 24, 2006
I thought this film was fantastic. I also think Sarsgard is a genius actor and so complex- maybe its the eyes. Gyllenhal is much better in this than brokeback mountain- the film was beautiful and true to the book, but i could see him 'acting'.

anyway, mendez has his highs and lows, and I think this is just a few points away from american beauty. he is a clever man of our generation. i especially though the scene with the horse in the oilfield the most spectacular scene i have watched in a long time.

as people have mentioned this film is about the youth's view of war today- a complete victim to politics.

complain about this page
Jarhead post 10
comment by KomKid    Jan 20, 2006
I believe that it is the war movie of this generation, its just not got any REAL war
complain about this page
Jarhead post 9
comment by Doubious    Jan 16, 2006
I am glad most people have seen this review for what it is. Even the people who have left their comments without having seen the film have stuck far closer to the mark than Sherwin, who has made the disappointingly basic mistake of letting her judgement of the film be coloured by her expectations, and seemingly even her own political beliefs.

From the ad campaign, it looked like this was a film with a message about war, with a high level of topical relevance. Just what that message was though, I was unsure of.
I left I left the cinema feeling a little let down; it seemed as though the soldier's journey had taken them nowhere. Indeed, when a political moral seemed to be rearing its head, the Staff-Sergeant quickly shut it down.

After some objective reflection though I realised that what Mendez has done with this film is so much more complex and interesting than a straight forward anti-war guilt-trip for America. The feeling of meaninglessness created at the end of the film, not of the war, but of the struggle of the individual soldier, is something with a sweet subtlety that seems to have escaped the reviewer. What's more, the moral implications of the conflict are brought up for those who do not need them spelled out, and an opinion dictated to them; how anyone could miss this in the scene where Gyllenhaal goes off on his own at the highway (which is a Beautiful scene) is beyond me.

I think what Sherwin seems to have been hoping for would have been infantile by comparison, and almost pointless as a film. Why would we need Platoon or Apocalypse Now simply updated for the new century, with desert stuck in in place of jungle? Mendez has actually said something refreshingly different with this film. Just the name given to this review annoys me; for someone to dismiss Jarhead as a film because it's "boring" proves that it's been completely lost on them.

And the soundtrack was Far from torturous! "MTV-inspired"? Has Sherwin dismissed it simply because a Nirvana track was used? And used brilliantly I might add, the music fully fitting the mood and the lyrics revealing an eerie relevance to the unspoken thoughts of the character. It Made one of the Many outstanding scenes in the movie.

To give some kind of a bottom line: Sure, you're not going to really enjoy Jarhead if war movies aren't your thing, (and perhaps, because of its unique slant, not even if they Are). But if you're prepared to go into the cinema with an open mind and even think for yourself a little, I think you'll get a lot out of the experience.
complain about this page
Jarhead post 8
comment by vincent_roccoforte    Jan 15, 2006
surely if the director/writer/whoever wanted to make a film about the stark realities of modern warfare in the gulf i think he would have done. i dont think the films misses the point, i think sherwin has.

seems to me that the reviewer has an agenda against the current proceedings over in iraq, which is a fair cop, you're not in the minority there. i feel the film's been viewed in the wrong frame of mind, expecting something else. the review is tainted, i'd appreciate more a review that came from a person who has no opinion, or a very little opinion on the war in iraq. i'm sick of all this war nonsence, sick of hearing about, hearing about people complaining about it, sick of seeing computer games and films about it, the lot. it's all very confusing. the films quite clearly been made to appetise the current hunger for all things combat in the same way we have all the call of duty games etc. what annoys me is the very people against the war are being sucked in by the marketing machine - who are making money out of the thing you're against.

i've not seen the film, but i've got a good idea of what it's all about. it is very far fetched to conclude your review by stating that the film misses the boat on current political events. i can only echo jwash's sentiments, if you want gritty realism, stick to full metal jacket or watch some factual documentories like the power of nightmares or whatever it's called.
complain about this page
Jarhead post 7
comment by j_wash    Jan 15, 2006
Sherwin's is the worst review i've ever read. To scathe a hollywood film for not instilling an opinion in the viewer is not only ignorent, it is irresponsible. If anyone seeks to develop an informed opinion on the broad historical or tactical progression of the first gulf war, then don't watch Jarhead. If you want to see an entertaining and realistic portrayal of one man's turbulent personal experiences in the war, then Jarhead is your movie. The film nails the real effects of intense military psychological training (I am tempted to use the word "brainwashing"), and the true nature of the war for most soldiers and marines. They were prepared mentally and physically for combat and required to maintain high levels of readiness over the course of months of relative inactivity. One marine told me personally that all there was to do was "eat sand and think about your wife and kids."
Jarhead is funny, thoughtful, and real. Its not the best of the year, but the Vietnam movie mold doesn't fit here, and Mendes did better than oliver stone would have.
complain about this page
Jarhead post 6
comment by Thrale    Jan 14, 2006
It seems overly negative to criticise Jarhead on the grounds of what it doesnt do, especially when the point of the book (and presumably the point of the film) was that the marines live in a de-politicised and de-humanised world. I think you miss the point if the 'references' to other war films bother you, its an autobiographical story, so any references aren't Sam Mendes blithely referencing his cinematic forebears, but revealing the importance of these films as cultural identifiers.

Admittedly, I havent seen the film yet, and the advertising has put me off a bit, but I would recommend the book to anyone who wants to read a moving and intelligent account not only of modern warfare, but of modern life. I dont think it would make any easy film to make, as the ratio of narrated events to internal monologue is about 20:80, so perhaps Mendes just didnt do as well as he normally does.
complain about this page

related info
full metal jacket
apocalypse now
note: The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.
see also

film archive
The best of cinema in the UK from 2002 to 2008.
films cinema search

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy