I was really looking forward to this movie, and I was not disappointed. Jarhead features a stellar cast in both starring and supporting roles. Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, The Day After Tomorrow) stars as 20 year old Anthony Swofford, a real-life Marine who served in Desert Storm. The movie tells of his personal experiences dealing with the boredom, uncertainty, anxiety and disappointment that may come with military service.

Set in 1989(?), Jarhead paints a truly realistic portrait of Marine life, from the hazing rituals to the Marine vernacular. Anyone who knows a Marine or is a Marine themselves can see that director Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition, American Beauty) did his homework. I guess it’s pretty easy to convey the authenticity since the movie is not fictionalized, although I assume some artistic liberties were taken. FYI, a “jarhead” is another name for a Marine and the name comes from the standard haircut which makes the Marine’s head look like a jar.

Gyllenhaal has really grown on me. Swofford is wide-eyed but gutsy, and never tries to be something he isn’t. He misses his girlfriend and wonders if “Jody” is keeping her company. He’s proud to serve his country and is a good marine, but like a lot of Marines, his grip on sanity is a bit loose. His experiences in Desert Storm show the pointlessness of his purpose….he is a sniper who never even gets to fire his gun. I could feel his boredom and desire for some “action” in the desert. How does one “fight” in a war as a sniper and never fire his gun?? Particularly effective was a scene between Gyllenhall and Peter Sarsgaard (Flightplan, Shattered Glass) as they return from a mission to find that the war is over. The other members of their troop are partying, drinking, celebrating and dancing around a fire, happy to be returning home after months in the sweltering heat. Their euphoria and wild abandonment contrast sharply with Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaards’s crestfallen faces. They should be happy, the war is over and we won! They can go home now. However, the unspoken question is “what was the point?” What did I do, why was I here?” And to top it off…I never even fired my weapon! This feeling dissipates as Sarsgaard’s character tells Swofford to fire his weapon now. A great scene follows where Swofford fires his weapon in the air and sets off a chain reaction. Men. Gotta love ’em. They’re so beastly and cute.

Anyway, suffice to say this movie was highly entertaining and gave a different account of the military. There are many great war movies out there (Full Metal Jacket, Born on the Fourth of July), but this one (I think) is the first one to capture the mundane aspects and real day to day experiences of a soldier who didn’t see much combat. Gyllenhaal was simply great and Peter Sarsgaard is a supremely underrated actor. This man should be a bigger star than he is. Jamie Foxx as Staff Sargeant Sykes is also great. Foxx doesn’t even seem like he was ever a stand-up comedian, this man is a real actor who can hang with anyone on the big screen. The cinematography and imagery were also beautiful. There’s a scene where Foxx and Gyllenhall are shown in silouhette against the backdrop of a red and orange sky as oil fires burn in the distance. Good stuff. I put Jarhead in my top 3 of the year, behind Crash and ahead of Sin City. Check it out.

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