“Jar-head: noun, a slang term for a Marine. It is used by laymen and Marines alike.” Jake Gyllenhaal (“Donnie Darko”), Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) and Peter Sarsgaard (“Kinsey”) all star in director Sam Mendes’ Gulf War tribute “Jarhead.” The film is based on former Marine, Anthony Swofford’s best-selling memoir about his experiences in Saudia Arabia and Kuwait. “Jarhead” follows Swofford (Gyllenhaal), a thirdgeneration enlistee, from a dehumanizing stretch in boot camp to active duty. Carrying a sniper’s rifle and a hundred- pound sack through the desert, he must learn to deal with the heat, the boredom and “the suck.” For those not in the military, “the suck” is a term used to describe the Marine Corps. “Welcome to the Suck” is the tagline of the film. “Jarhead” is a sobering portrayal of the life of a Marine in a time of war. However, do not expect to see a lot of bombing and shooting. “Jarhead” is not so much about the combat side of war but rather the downtime of war. The movie shows Swofford and other Marines going through rigorous training both at boot camp and in Saudia Arabia. Yet not once in the 100- plus days they are there does Swofford ever fire his gun.The film has an outstanding supporting cast. Foxx plays Sergeant Sykes, a Marine lifer who heads up Swofford’s platoon. Sarsgaard’s performance is utterly gut-wrenching as Troy, Swofford’s friend and mentor. Oscar winner Chris Cooper also has a small role.
The look of the film is visually beautiful. The miles of open desert seem depressing until viewed at night against the background of the oil fires. Mendes, who is known for masterpieces like “American Beauty” and “Road to Perdition,” shot the entire film at eye level so the viewer would get the sense that they too are a soldier. “Jarhead” is destined for Oscar votes with its sharp wit and brutal depiction of war. Gyllenhaal’s performance is unlike any in his career and Mendes’ direction is simply awe-inspiring. In the end, “Jarhead” is a dizzying yet stunning wake-up call for movie-goers.