The film Jarhead depicts the life of a Marine before and during Operation Desert Storm and showcases a reality very few people would know otherwise. It is captivating, tense, humorous, and real, involving well-rounded and complex characters in a way that mirrors Full Metal Jacket without directly competing with it. These characters are just young men in need of the structure the military provides and yet they must face the realities of war, death, distance from loved ones and tolerance for others in close quarters. It’s enough to drive a man mad. Hoorah!
While I haven’t seen the big ordeal that is Brokeback Mountain Jake Gyllenhaal is painfully impressive and I’d be surprised if any other performance in his lifetime could ever top the work and gritty realism he presents in Jarhead. If he can ever excel beyond what he has shown here, then Gyllenhaal will take up residence in film for the rest of his life. We will be seeing him perform in his sixties and still be blown away.
The main strength of the film, aside from Gyllenhaal, is showing these men not as invincible, indestructible, blow-everything-up guys. Hollywood likes to reserve those rolls for Vin Diesel, whose acting is as fake as his name. In Jarhead these men are insecure, lonely, scared, selfish, and under pressure to act like they feel none of those things. They are very affected by the outside world and are just like normal people but doing an abnormal, dangerous job that at best will change their lives forever and at worst will kill them.
I give Jarhead credit for not being like every other war movie out there and yet displaying the similarities perfectly. We stick with Jake’s character, Swofford, for the duration of the entire film and also get the initially annoying but later appreciated narration from the character throughout the movie. We see intimately into his mind and learn what makes him tick and what makes him explode. The same is true for all the other characters. No one comes across as an extra with no depth or part to play. We are given several sides to not just the main characters but all the characters. The ups, the downs, we experience their lives for just a moment and know them closely for the duration of the film. This is the key to a good film. If we didn’t know these characters: it would be another war movie. It would be senseless. It would be unrealistic. I would be asking for a refund.
Jarhead puts Marine life on a platter for us to pick at, consume, and discuss. It’s as real as we can imagine and nothing is left up to the imagination. I credit Sam Mendes, the director, for this. With American Beauty and Road to Perdition under his belt I’m not surprised he was able to tackle such a beast and display it perfectly. Credit would also have to be given fully to William Broyles Jr., the screenwriter, who didn’t seem to shy away some topics or doubt that people wouldn’t be interested. This film is uniquely beautiful and severely honest, especially considering the state of the current war in Iraq. The impact of this film is huge and the only fear would be that only military buffs would take the time to see it.
The extras for Jarhead are as equally as strong and intriguing as the film. Not only do we get extra deleted scenes but also there are actually two audio commentaries on the disc. “What? Two? For me?,” you ask. When some discs don’t even offer one lousy commentary—that’s right—Jarhead has two. To top that off, a majority of the other extras also have a commentary on/off option.
The first audio track is with the director, Sam Mendes. He covers tons of information and clues us into several different ideas or reasons why different scenes were done in which manner. He also tells who people are and how they came to the film. The second commentary involves the screenwriter William Broyles Jr. along with author of the book the film was based on, Anthony Swofford. (Does the name ring a bell? It should.) This is an excellent choice for a commentary. Most of the time there’s a commentary with producers or special effects guys, but for a film like this we’d rather hear from the writers, especially when Swofford is available to record one.
The next feature is “Swoff’s Fantasies,” a string of deleted scenes in which we see more of the internal thoughts and feelings of our main character. All great, deep scenes that all in all would have probably made Swoffard appear even more over the edge than he already is, but nice to see as an extra nonetheless. How else would we get the opportunity to see what his Drill Instructor looked like in a dress if we don’t see it through Gyllenhaal’s eyes? After this set of scenes there are also quite a few regular deleted scenes as well. All of these, like everything else with this disc, are great additions and add another dimension to the characters and to the film.
Finally, there are all of the “News Interviews” (in full). These are a continuation of the clips shown in the film where a TV crew interviews the Marines. It all sounds very patriotic but each little bite tells a bit more about each character. All of these things together combine to make one heck of a disc. I’m totally impressed with the film and the special features available with it. It’s a definite buy and I can’t wait to see what kind of special edition or director’s cut could be lingering around the corner close to Christmas time.