In the era we live in, the eventuality of a movie about a soldier’s experience in war was going to come, whether or not we wanted to see the film. Since the war in Iraq is such a hot button topic with a majority of people, regardless if you were for the war or against the war, Universal thought this would be the perfect moment to capture our interest in war. Enter director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and stars Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain) and Academy-Award winning Actor Jamie Foxx (Ray) …nd you know you have a movie that will pique the average person’s curiousity. But was Jarhead made too soon? Would people really want to see what our soliders are going through? Read on to find out.
Jarhead is based on the 2003 memoirs of Anthony Swofford who is portrayed by Gyllenhaal. Swofford served in the first Gulf War. The film is obviously about a war, but what makes the film amazing is that it is a war film that rises way, way above the concept of a war to tell an intriguing story of exhaustion, boredom, lonliness, obession and drama.
“Four Days, Four Hours, One Minute. I never shot my rifle.“ This is what Swofford tells us in his memoirs. The film is very realistic in that it contains no sudden act of heroism or big planned explosions. It almost feels like Mendes and his crew shot two hours of actual war footage. There are many scenes were we get nothing but dialogue. These scenes are done, I feel, to let the viewer take a moment to think about the concept of war and what it exactly means to go to war. We experience exactly what Swofford went through. The sand and heat of the desert, the torture of months and months of waiting and waiting, the sight of burnt corpses and the smell of burning oil fields.
Gyllenhaal is on quite the roll lately. Recently nominated for his performance in Brokeback Mountain, he turns in another impressive performance here. One particular scene sees Swofford being interviewed by a network newswoman. She asks him why he decided to serve in the army. He gave her the typical answer, but she wanted more. This causes him to say “I’m 20 years old, and I was dumb enough to sign a contract.“ The manner in which Gyllenhaal says this line is so realistic that we can imagine some troops may feel this way right now too. Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) plays Swofford’s spotter and Jamie Foxx plays Staff Sgt. Sykes. Both turn in good performances as well but I found the performances lacked the passion of some of their more vibrant roles (EX: Foxx’s Ray and Sarsgaard’s Flightplan). The rest of the team includes your average young men who figure the only thing worse than fighting an actual war, is waiting for the war to begin.. in 112 degree heat.
One of the most powerful scenes in the film occurs when Swofford sees an enemy officer in his gunsight. He is forbidden to fire because his shot may give advance warning of their position and of a possible air strike. Troy declares “Let him take the shot!“. Possibly this means these soldiers are so frustrated with the concept of waiting and waiting for the war to start, that they want to actually start the war in a manner that may kill them by exposing their position.
I read an interesting thought on a message board a few days ago about Swofford’s life. He feels that, for the rest of his life, whether or not he ever holds a rifle again, the rifle he used will always be a part of his body and soul. He never thought it would be like this when he signed up. Swofford says a story from a different angle can change how we look at a picture and interpret its meaning. Jarhead, being based on his experience of war, certainly does this in a exuberantly passionate manner that hits very close to home.
Jarhead is presented in an anamorphic widescreen ratio of 2:35:1. The image looks sharp, clear and extremely gritty, but not in a bad way. The grittiness of the scenery comes across brilliantly. There are little to no edge enchancements despite the film’s desert locale. A top notch transfer especially considering some of the shots were done on a mini-handheld camera.
We are given a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound Audio Track available in English, Spanish, and French. Due to the nature of the film, the audio track sounds excellent with booming bass of explosions from the subwoofer. With all the yelling and screaming dialogue, one would expect some of the audio to be muffled. This is not the case as every piece of dialogue comes off very clear and crisp from the center channel. Just like the picture, this is a top notch audio track.
Jarhead is also available in a lavish 2 Disc Collector’s Edition, but that doesn’t mean we are given a nice amount of features on the 1-Disc Edition.
- Audio Commentary with Director Sam Mendes: Here we are given a nice, insightful chat by Sam Mendes. Mendes looks back on his desire to make the film, and his worry about releasing a film about a war when the war in Iraq is still on everyone’s mind.
- Audio Commentary with Screenwriter William Broyles Jr. and Author Anthony Swofford: Now this is a great commentary track. Even though the information Broyles gives is interesting, Mendes mentioned a majority of what he has to say. It is Swofford talking about his real-life experiences in the army and he use of language that makes it so interesting. This commentary is definitely worth your time, even if you don’t like the film as Swoffords‘ comments are very informative.
- Deleted Scenes: Here we are given a total of 11 Deleted Scenes that last around 19 minutes. While the scenes don’t really do much for the overall film, it is interesting to hear the aspects from Mendes on the optional commentary track as to why the scenes were deleted. Worth a watch if you feel like seeing every piece of possible footage shot.
- Uncut News Interview: Here we are given a bunch of interviews lasting 16 minutes. The interviews are pretty dull for the most part with standard questions like ‚Why did you sign up?‘ and ‚What do you think of your time in the army.‘
- “Swoff’s Fantasies”: Here are we given whole sequences that were deleted from the final cut of the film. These are different from the deleted scenes, as these are scenes that Swofford wanted to have including in the final version, but were cut due to time constraints and lack of a continous flow of the story.
A quick note here for those of you interested in the ‘2-Disc Collector’s Edition‘. On the 2-Disc Collector’s Edition, we are given all the features here as well as: Jarhead Diaries, Background, and Semper Fi: Life After the Corps. Jarhead Diaries is a collection of video diaries. Background is a feature examining the real U.S. Marines who appeared and contributed to the film. Semper Fi: Life After the Corps is a feature about Swofford and Laura Nix interviewing former marines and their re-integration into their normal lives after returning from the corps.
Jarhead is a powerful, important film about a subject we all know but never want to experience. Luckily for us, Swofford brings us his experiences in a manner that is compelling and moving. The DVD version boasts great picture and audio and a whole host of interesting features. When it comes to deciding which version to get, only get the Collector’s Edition if you want more features. Whatever version you pick up, make sure you grab this movie and enjoy the experience.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary with Director Sam Mendes
- Audio Commentary with Screenwriter William Broyles Jr. and Author Anthony Swofford
- Deleted Scenes
- Uncut News Interviews