R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Sam Mendes
scr William Broyles Jr
with Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Dennis Haysbert, Lucas Black, Brian Geraghty, Jacob Vargas, Laz Alonso, Evan Jones, Ivan Fenyo, Scott MacDonald
release US 4.Nov.05, UK 13.Jan.06
05/US Universal 2h03

Welcome to the suck: Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard

sarsgaard foxx cooper

25th Shadows Awards
BEST ACTOR Jake Gyllenhaal
ACTOR Jake Gyllenhaal

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Jarhead Mendes (American Beauty) and Broyles (Cast Away) clearly use Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket as a template to adapt Anthony Swofford's Gulf War I memoir for the big screen. The result is strikingly visual and thematically stirring examination, but it doesn't say anything terribly revealing.

Swoff (Gyllenhaal) is a gung-ho 20-year-old Marine, a highly trained sharp-shooter who's thrilled to finally see action after Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait in 1990. But "action" isn't exactly the word for what's happening along the Saudi border, where an increasing number of pumped-up soldiers have little to do besides wait. And play football in blistering heat while wearing gas masks. And wait for their girlfriends back home to cheat on them. And cheer along with classic war movies.

This is an antiwar film without a war, which makes it thoroughly intriguing, although it struggles to make a point. There are some terrific sequences--from the brutal boot camp to the raucous Christmas party to the otherworldly burning oilfields. But the main problem is that there's nothing terribly involving about the plot; we're left to identify with characters who seem to exist in isolated limbo from each other.

Fortunately, the cast is excellent. This is Gyllenhaal's best-yet work, beautifully balancing Swoff's eager energy and inner confusion--his lust for life is unquenchable in such a pointless place. There's superb support from the amazing Sarsgaard as Swoff's likeable-but-dangerous sniper partner and Foxx as his mercurial commander. While Cooper and Haysbert add terrific texture as colourfully rah-rah officers, and the sprawling cast of marines nicely avoid stereotypes.

Mendes directs this with a stark visual sensibility that inventively captures life in the desert, where over-trained young men have little to do besides, ahem, play with themselves. He also maintains a sharply singular perspective that's focussed and illuminating. The hijinks are aptly mean-spirited, and the superior "Let's kick Iraqi ass!" culture is brought to sobering reality by the real world out there. This is sharply observed and strikingly strong stuff, especially since the actual war only lasted four days. But it never manages to transcend the specific, small story to say something important.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 6.Nov.05

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Jarhead Michelle, London: 3.5/5 "I liked this film but I didn't know why. Nothing much seemed to happen, which I think was the point of the film - to convey the pointlessness of trained troops being out there for so long yet using none of the skills they had trained so hard to build up. I could be totally wrong of course! The acting was fantastic and kept me intrigued by a film which I otherwise would have lost interest in. Not sure I liked the fact that the only women in the film were portrayed as cheating tarts, but then it was primarily aimed at a testosterone filled audience. For me, it was a little too cliched. Still I liked it, just confused about what message it was trying to convey." (30.Jan.06)
2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall