(R) 4 Stars

Jim Walker

Troy relieves pent-up stress

I saw Jarhead with a friend who, as a Gulf War veteran, experienced much of what happened in the movie. He found Jarhead accurate and enjoyable. He didn't consider the film's blunt and often unflattering portrayal of the soldiers troublesome. And he didn't find the movie's politics - which are subtly but unmistakably anti-war - objectionable. But, like many ex-military people I've met, my friend is a skeptical patriot. That's probably why he liked Jarhead. And it's certainly why I did.

Jarhead is a movie that shows our toughest soldiers, the Marines, as human beings. It's a movie that takes the abstract concept of modern warfare and makes it concrete by focusing on the (few) triumphs and (frequent) disappointments experienced by Anthony Swofford and his small unit of sniper scouts in this story based on Swofford's best-selling 2003 memoir. It's a war movie that doesn't glorify war in any way. It has exactly zero thrilling battle scenes and exactly one soldier killed on screen. But it's a movie full of portrayals of depravity, weakness and - on the flip side - bravery and perseverance.

I was pleased to find a full house in attendance when we watched the movie last weekend in Greenwood. The audience connected easily with Jarhead's bawdy military humor but slowly adjusted to its somberness. Sometimes people still laughed at inappropriate times as the movie slipped into darkness. They didn't want the movie to go there. But this reaction wasn't Jarhead's fault. The excellent cast - highlighted by performances by Jake Gyllenhall and Peter Sarsgaard - handled the film's varied tones with skill and guided the audience smoothly into the abyss represented beautifully by night scenes of oil fields on fire.

Jarhead, directly and indirectly, refers to war movies that came before it. So how does it compare? It's not as unforgettable as Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket or lots of movies about other wars more dramatic than the first Gulf War. While it doesn't pack the power of those films, it does something quite different quite well. In the end, Jarhead is not as much a war movie as it is an intriguing meditation on fear and disappointment. And that makes it something that speaks to all of us - no matter what we think of war.

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