‘Jarhead’ fights its way to success

Emily Triebwasser

You probably expect great things from the much-anticipated war flick “Jarhead.” It’s got the makings of an excellent film, with an Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes (of “American Beauty” fame), and two Academy Award-winning actors, Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper on staff. The film has already got credibility.

“Jarhead” follows the autobiographical account of Anthony Wofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) from boot camp to “combat” in the Persian Gulf as a Marine. Under the command of the fatherly Staff Sergeant Sykes (an impressive Foxx), he meets the stereotypical eclectic platoon. There’s the bloodthirsty Fowler, the sweet and timid Fergus, and the honorable Troy (Sarsgaard), with whom Wofford becomes close friends. In keeping up with the platoon clichés, there is a slight danger for “Jarhead” to become the typical war movie, a la “Apocalypse Now,” or “Full Metal Jacket” – films that are more concerned with war’s aspects of violence than those of heart.

The self-described term “jarhead” refers to the common, uniform, empty haircut donned by the Marines. I cannot help but wonder if the movie is comparable to the hairstyle itself: barren, and just like any other war movie out there. The viewer may feel a bit let down while the end credits roll, wondering what all the hype was about. After I saw it, all kinds of angry thoughts were running through my head. What did I accomplish in seeing this film? Did I just waste two hours of my life? Can I even pinpoint a time in the film where the climax actually occurred?

Well, Sam Mendes is no idiot. If the movie seems anticlimactic, it is for a reason. In order to fully appreciate this movie, you have to think of it as portraying an experience, rather than an actual storyline. Mendes chose not to make it into a typical war movie because this time period was not a typical war. The film illustrates brilliantly such topics as struggling through long-distance relationships, dealing with the lifestyle changes of a soldier, and the various motives for enlisting. Whether the boys “got lost on the way to college,” as Wofford claims, or voluntarily fight for glory and honor, like Troy’s character, all of the men served together as a unified platoon.

The film does have a few cheesy lines, failed attempts at creating the impact of Coppola’s “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Nevertheless, there are some touching and captivating moments depicting the experiences of these boys. The sight of bombed enemy territory and several charred bodies scattered throughout the desert will undoubtedly tug at the heartstrings of the audience and engrain the images of war into the mind. The movie is superbly acted: Gyllenhaal, Foxx, and Sarsgaard in particular.

Above all, “Jarhead” is a must-see, but don’t go expecting “Saving Private Ryan.” It is a film of its own caliber, and at that, a tribute that the men who served in the Persian Gulf can relate to for years.