Time Out says
Coincidentally being released as our current debacle in Iraq hit the 2,000-casualty mark, Sam Mendes's adaptation of Anthony Swafford's Desert Storm tour-of-duty memoir can easily be read as a cutting political commentary. But though the film's stance is resolutely against war---what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again!---Mendes has a more specific target in his crosshairs: The hoo-rah! military culture that turns good ol' American boys into testosterone-fueled monstrosities. Watching these sociopaths-in-training singing along to Wagner during a recreational Apocalypse Now screening, you get the feeling that the war drums have been programmed into their craniums on an endless loop. Throw in mind-numbing boredom and a buildup to combat that never happens, and the mental deterioration of Swafford's screen surrogate (Gyllenhaal) seems inevitable. A recruitment poster this ain't.
The focus on the psychic damage wrought by the gung-ho marine mind-set gives the movie a sense of relevance outside of a specific conflict, yet Jarhead ultimately feels as anticlimactic as the brief skirmish in its background. Swafford's book read like a blisteringly personal confessional, but after the initial boot-camp sequences, Mendes's movie degenerates into a momentumless roll call of loss-of-innocence vignettes punctuated by factual intertitles (days in the desert, number of troops). A few visual flourishes---notably a hellish landscape of flaming oil wells---lend a surreal ambience, but it won't be enough to keep moviegoers from feeling a little stir-crazy themselves near the end.