Reinventing the War Movie

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Jarhead tips its hat to epic war movies like Apocalypse Now and Platoon, while making its own definitive depiction of warfare. Jarhead represents the antithesis of those classic war movies in that it portrays its warriors suffering from insanity not due to gruesome assaults and ambushes, rather from the dementia of simply waiting for the fighting to begin.

We’re introduced to the movie’s hero, Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal), as he endures cruel basic training at Camp Pendleton in 1989. After several scenes with the drill instructor, which are clear homages to Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, Swofford is signed up for advanced sniper training. He’s picked out by the hard-nosed, yet fair Sergeant Siek (Jamie Foxx) and is paired up with his spotter, Troy (Peter Sarsgaard). In late 1990, Swofford and his fellow marines are then shipped to Iraq to train for desert warfare and wait for their services to be needed. We watch as Swofford and his regiment suffers running in plastic, chemical warfare suits while being tortured by the 112-degree Iraqi desert. Along with this physical torture, the marines one-by-one post up on a board their unfaithful lovers and wives. But what truly hurts these marines is the agony in waiting. We spend much of the movie through Swofford’s perspective seeing him slowly wear down in thought and eventually crack. After being indoctrinated to worship the gun and the power it can wield, Swofford is driven to extreme madness, almost losing control.

While the subject matter could possibly have lead to a dull and lackluster movie experience, director, Sam Mendes of American Beauty and Road to Perdition fame, crafts a kind of war movie that has been waiting to be seen. Mendes and his crew, especially cinematographer, Roger Deakins, take the landscape of the dry, arid desert and transform it into an unimaginable terrain, it’s almost as if the marines were walking inside a surrealistic painting. The best of these scenes is when Swofford and Troy are making their way back to base camp at night and are crawling down sand