Tuesday 22 February 2011

Jarhead (2005) - Sam Mendes

“Every war is different.  Every war is the same”

The same can be said of war films.  There are so many excellent, iconic war films, it takes a very special film to stand out above the crowd.  Unfortunately, Jarhead is not that film.

Set in the first Iraq war, the film questions whether the marines are empty, robotic shells or whether there is more to these jarheads than meets the eye.  Mendes has proven time and again that he is an excellent director.  Here, the desert is oppressive in its white blankness, the horizon soaking into the hot sky.  The film is filled with small but clever directorial touches and the performances overall are commendable.

Simultaneously, the film is like a checklist of war film tropes, taking too much inspiration from other iconic films and becoming almost pastiche.  The opening sequence is taken straight from Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The ironic choices of music also echo Kubrick, juxtaposing harsh visuals with ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’.  There’s even a scene where the marines watch Apocalypse Now, singing along to Wagner with glee. 
Further, the marines take on the obvious character stereotypes, with machismo posturing and scenes of hyper-masculinity.  By contrast, the relationship between Gyllenhaal and his girlfriend at home appears melodramatic.  As a result, these jarhead’s are hardly the complex men the film attempts to portray.  Ultimately, the film never really goes anywhere, paralleling the pointlessness of the war the marines are fighting.

Jarhead is by no means a bad film – it just lacks originality.  It does have its harrowing moments, but it lacks the intensity and impact of The Hurt Locker, a film which is probably more worthy of your time.