With the United States
deeply divided on the subject of the war of Iraq, it is no surprise that
Hollywood would gaze long and hard on the subject. It is hard to make
a film on a continuing war, so the movies have gone back over a decade to
the last time the United States went to the country -- euphemistically known
as Operation Desert Storm.
The first Iraqi war has
been subject of two very good films, Three Kings and Black Hawk
Down. This short lived war is also the setting for Jarhead,
which interestingly does not make a moral judgment on the war.
does a very good job of straddling that line. Anti-war people will
undoubtedly see it as an indictment of the incompetence and tedium of war.
Pro-war supporters can reasonably see it as an ode to corps, brotherhood and
teamwork. Both sides would be right and both sides would be wrong.
The film features some
spectacular acting -- particularly Gyllenhaal as a young recruit slowly
coming undone as he looks to find his place in the Corps and Foxx as a lifer
Sgt. who lives the Semper Fi life.
Jarhead takes on a
rather risky source material. Anthony Swofford's 2003 book was
interesting because it was a comic look at the boredom and lack of sense of
the soldier's lot. Swofford never made it into combat, that was the
point of the book, he and his corpsmen were put through soul-crushing
duties, cheating lovers and way too much time and testosterone on their
hands. However, without Swofford's humorous narrative tone, too many
of these scenes are forced to stand or fall on their own.
The problem with this is
simple. Yes, it is intriguingly subversive to show the soldier's
lifestyle as being a long series of boring duties and stringent rules.
However, the trouble with illustrating the tedium of life in the field is
that what quickly becomes tired for the soldiers also becomes exhausting for
the viewer. We're right with them waiting for some action -- for
something -- to happen. A gunfight or a mine would almost be welcome
to break up the latrine duties, target practice and digging of trenches.
In the world of Jarhead, war isn't hell, it's just a drag.
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Posted: March 7, 2006.