Jarhead

Movies
LUBE JOB Gyllenhaal gets oiled down in the desert.
LUBE JOB Gyllenhaal gets oiled down in the desert.

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.

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