The Red Right Hand
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JARHEAD
Welcome To The Suck

Director
Sam Mendes
Starring
Jake Gyllenhaal
Peter Sarsgaard
Jamie Foxx
Chris Cooper

There is a simple division amongst the countries involved in the wars in the Gulf; there are those that believe in the cause and feel that the soldiers out there are doing what's right, that they are truly aiding the liberation of the peoples of the Middle East; then there are those in complete opposition of the war and feel that it's unnecessary, that we have no business being out there and if we weren't lying to ourselves as to the reason of troops in the desert we may support it more. When it comes down to the basic elements you have to ask yourself if this war is about liberation or oil. In an almost fashionable trend we have a tendency to follow certain wars with movies highlighting personal accounts and skirmishes - it's a fascination the public seems to have. There are, however, two types: true accounts and blatant propaganda. The most recent efforts include: Black Hawk Down (a fantastic film and a credit to those in it), Buffalo Soldiers (hilarious black comedy that addresses issues of boredom amongst soldiers at peace), Three Kings (more of a heist film than a war movie but still very well done and one of the best films of that year), Lord Of War (focusing on the nature of arms dealing; strong and poignant). Jarhead is the latest and integrates Academy Award Winning director Sam Mendes with a phenomenal cast of acting talent. The film is based on ex-marine Anthony Swofford's book and outlines his time as part of operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia and fighting in Kuwait. The biggest problem with this film is that it tries to illustrate that nothing happened for those men during that war, that they would try to occupy themselves to stay off the boredom. I didn't really have a problem with the notion of their situation as it's what they had to go through but at the same time I still thought that for a 123 minute film they could have altered the story to encompass the whole platoon - after all, watching the back stories of 8 men unfold is more interesting than one with very little.

Jarhead's main infirmity is its lack of direction, I don't mean in a sense of plot but a sense of purpose. Having just witnessed two hours of internal struggle and sheer frustrating boredom you really get an idea what it was like being a US marine in that conflict but being so emotionally thrown about by the end of the film you still don't know what you're supposed to feel. This is probably why there will never be as many Gulf war movies as there are WWII or Vietnam based films, simply because this is an age of modern warfare, an age in which you can fight in a war that's happening over a mile away and to be perfectly honest no one wants to see a war movie in which there is no war. The closing line is a re-hash on the opening line: "Whatever else he may do with his life-build a house, love a woman, change his son's diaper-he will always be a jarhead. And all the jarheads killing and dying, they will always be me." yet he finishes with "We are still in the desert." That irritated me to no end. I honestly don't know how I'm supposed to react to half of these messages. It's almost as if a child is weighing the pros and cons to eating ice cream but can't come to a conclusion as to whether he should eat it or not. Does he mean that they are so disaffected that they can't escape their short term in the desert? Or is he trying to remind the audience that there are still marines currently serving in the Middle East? Either way I should be imbued with sympathy or compassion, instead I simply pity them for their own poor choices - unlike previous wars there was no draft for the Gulf so the men who signed up did so of there own accord, naturally not all of them had a choice per se but they still signed their life away on that dotted line to serve their country.

Another fault I had with this film is that a lot of the ground has already been set by previous films, especially Vietnam based films such as Full Metal Jacket, Platoon and Apocalypse Now. There are just too many moments when you can sit back and say, 'I've seen that before.' This is actually a credit to those previous films - and indeed this title - for its accurate representation of marine training but it's like watching a remake or another episode of M*A*S*H, there's so little for you to get to grips with as the only new material is a bunch of marines with nothing to do. The boys are eventually sent home and we sample the lives they are returning to; Swofford [Gyllenhaal] comes home to find his girlfriend has shacked up with some other man, some of the troops work poor day jobs at supermarkets, one particular guy (the idealistic young soldier who didn't believe in the cause he was fighting for) went on to become a business executive, but the one that really got to me was Fowler [Evan Jones]. Fowler represents all the bad publicity the American Forces have gone through in the name of war, every horrible little thing that found its way to the media, Fowler has embodied. The biggest problem is that there was only one, just Mr. Fowler and he was supposedly discharged on his return yet the last thing we see him doing is some Asian lady in a bar - now don't get me wrong but did he learn anything? Did he feel guilty or ashamed for the way he behaved? No! He got some hot girl and started nuzzling her chest, well done. This was the kind of thing that made me frown and question the film's motives and purpose. What exactly is Mendes trying to say? Is this a film that condones the war or not? One minute it's promoting the acts of the marines and then condemning them the next. Little holes like this seem to crop up more and more as the film progressed and you start to realise that what was advertised as a real story with real emotions and issues at its heart is no more than a 'safe flick.' A good example of this is when the American bombers turn and make a fly-by over their own troops, killing three or four soldiers and knocking out a couple of vehicles. When it's pointed out that they were just attacked by their own side they simply shrug their shoulders and carry on. Surely you'd be more annoyed than that? Men that you knew just died by the hand of those who are supposed to be on your side! - the American Airforce's lack of any sense of direction seems to be a recurring theme in contemporary war films. Ultimately it's very hard to write a review about a film where nothing really happens. I would still class this as one of the best films about the Gulf but as I said, I doubt there will be many more simply because if you've seen one, you've seen them all; to quote the film, "Every war is different, every war is the same."

Release Date:
13th January 2005

The Scene To Look Out For:
Having just been disciplined for his negligence, Swofford then takes his anger out on Fergus [Brian Geraghty] and ends up screaming at him while holding his rifle up to Fergus' face. Very powerful and very moving, a true depiction of how madness can set in so quickly through boredom and anxiety.

Notable Characters:
Jamie Foxx plays Staff Sergeant Sykes perfectly, with a nice blend of other drill instructors throughout cinematic history.

Highlighted Quote:
"For most problems the Marine is issued a solution. If ill, go to sickbay. If wounded, call a Corpsman. If dead, report to graves registration. If losing his mind, however, no standard solution exists."

In A Few Words:
"It's very difficult to make a film when you have little to base it on, but Mendes managed to pull Jarhead off rather nicely"

Total Score:
7/10


Matthew Stogdon