The film "Jarhead" is based on a book by Anthony Swofford, a United States Marine who served in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm. Although we are never sure how much of the story is true and false, it is not hard to imagine that all of it could be true. The film was directed by Sam Mendes, of "American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition" fame.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays the main character, Anthony Swofford. The other major roles include Troy, who is played by Peter Sarsgaard, and Staff Seargent Sykes, who is played by Jamie Foxx. All of these men serve in the same company and have very different personalities and perceptions of the war.
During boot camp, Swofford is chosen for sniper school and graduates to serve as a sniper with Troy as his spotter. Sykes plays a hard, but fair leader of the company, who initially conflicts with Swofford, but later comes to respect him. Swofford begins the film as an apathetic soldier, but matures throughout the film as he observes the horrors of war. Troy, on the other hand, loves the idea of warfare and awaits his chance to kill in combat with a chilling determination.
If I could pick one film to compare this film to, I would say "Full Metal Jacket". Both films feature a boot camp sequence, although this film's version isn't nearly as brutal, reflecting the reform of military training since Vietnam. Like the other film, this one focuses on the less glamorous aspects of warfare, including political dissent in the ranks.
The film touches on some of the casualties of warfare that we never hear about: relationships. It is hard enough keeping a relationship going in the same house, let alone overseas. Another casualty found in this film is that of innocence and naivety.
This film is definitely not like most other war movies that I have seen. Instead of seeing high intensity battle scenes with guns blazing and massive explosions, this film is much more subdued and features no real combat. However, this matches the movie's goal to focus on the lesser known aspects of warfare.
Most of the film takes place in the empty deserts of the Middle East. However, that does not prevent the movie from getting some amazing shots, and I was particularly struck by a scene in a burning oil field. The director does a good job of showing the loneliness and heat of the desert through lighting levels and wide shots.
Overall, I thought this movie was good, although I couldn't help feeling like something was missing. War is definitely a terrible thing, but sometimes we forget that fact and try to make it into a game. I think it is important for people to realize what really happens during war and the very real consequences of it. This film is by no means perfect, but it isn't bad.