Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Jarhead. A review of Sam Mendes’ latest film

“Every war is different, every war is the same”, sighs Anthony "Swoff" Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Sam Mendes’ new stunning success.

By complaining that it confounds expectations, some reviewers miss the point: Jarhead isn’t a war movie, more a reflection behind rhetoric, propaganda and the sense of anonymity, loneliness and hopelessness of contemporary cannon (or shall we say depleted uranium) fodder.

Hollywood is crowded with illustrious war-films: Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now and the rest, and even the most recent battle-based contributions (think Three Kings or Black Hawk Down) had their mainstay in velocity and the ritualisation of combat in its most tragic sense.

That alone makes Jarhead unique. The sense of boredom, the stifling wait, the intolerable heat are all inexorable factors that little by little, and with exasperating subtlety, drive those marines insane.

Inspired by Swofford’s 2003 book “Jarhead- A Marines’ Chronicle of The Gulf War and Other Battles”, Mendes wisely takes a step back, leaving the viewers alone to make up their mind about the inebriated rhetoric of god-bless-america-let’s-kick-the-aye-raki’s-ass.

The sense of build-up is remarkably rendered, troops growing from 60,000 to 575,000 within four months, gagging for action while the battle never comes and the enemy doesn’t materialise.

All that is left are hideous levels of testosterone bound to rip the marines apart from within with frustration, nerves and unmitigated boredom. And with inertia comes the realisation that their lives back home – indeed is there a home to go back to at all - are none other than trash, the same trailer trash that pushed then into that deceptively glamorous way out, the marines. But glamorous it isn’t, those guys were promised Apocalypse Now and death of inaction is all they’re getting.

When Swofford concludes “ten years on and we’re still in the desert”, one suspects that Jarhead will turn out to be the landmark of a generation, the lapse that helps the US public register the morass they got themselves into, the physiological guilty swing of the pendulum like it happened halfway through Vietnam.

In which case -be proud Kate- Mendes will deservedly step into cinematic history and with an eye on that other rising star, the absolutely superb Jake Gyllenhall. 2006 may have just begun, but Jarhead is on course to be one of the Hollywood highlights of the year.

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