We’re intrigued by "Jarhead" for several reasons â€” it’s adapted from a remarkable book, it’s tackling an immensely spiny subject, and it features our imaginary boyfriend Peter Sarsgaard. Plus, it’s directed by Sam Mendes, who made the middlebrow classic of our time (every time we use that word we slap ourselves in the face, it’s our new rule) and followed it up with a grave disappointment (not that "Road to Perdition" was so terrible, but expectations made its success nearly impossible). He’s got something to prove, and "Jarhead" is nothing if not ambitious â€” it’s also got the cast to back it up.
Really, though, we want to see what Mendes can do in the face of "Three Kings," a movie that seems to develop sharper edges every time we see it â€” or perhaps just as time passes.
Anyway, two early and lengthy reviews: Andrew Sarris at the New York Observer and David Poland at The Hot Button. Sarris gushes, at least as much as we’ve ever seen him, devoting much of him column to simply describing the film. And it looks like Sarris, in his meandering way, is a Sarsgaard fan too:
When Swoff [Jake Gyllenhaal] is teamed up with Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) in a two-man sniper unit, in which one man scouts and the other shoots, he comes to realize that despite Troyâ€™s criminal record as a drug dealer, he is the only politically sophisticated member of the platoon. Troy keeps asking his comrades why theyâ€™re fighting this war, and heâ€™s the only one who refuses to take the experimental drugs issued by the U.S. military as anti-biological-warfare agents because theyâ€™ve never been adequately tested, and he doesnâ€™t relish the thought of becoming a guinea pig, thank you. Mr. Sarsgaard brings his accustomed charismatic conviction to the role from the first moment we spot him in the group. I found myself wondering why he hasnâ€™t been cast as the leading man long ago. Perhaps that extra â€œaâ€ in his name makes it seem too eccentric for star billing, or perhaps itâ€™s too close to that of the excellent Swedish actor, Stellan SkarsgÃ¥rd. Then, too, perhaps itâ€™s the authority he brings to serious, even villainous parts that makes him seem too valuable an acting resource to be wasted on vapid lead characters.
This also sounds promising:
In one scene, the Marines are energized and inspired by watching a screening of the Wagnerian helicopter flights in Francis Ford Coppola’s "Apocalypse Now" (1979). Walter Murch, the editor of "Jarhead," was also the editor of the Coppola classic. Ironically,
then, "Apocalypse Now" â€” with its intended anti-Vietnam War
message â€” eventually served to make a later generation of Marines more warlike and bloodthirsty. So much for the benign, pacificism-enhancing effects on audiences of violent war movies.
But of course. No matter how much a film protests that war is hell, it also inevitably takes advantage of the fact that war is inherently cinematic, and that war (that violence) is one of the great universal visual intoxicants. Coppola’s helicopter scenes were disturbing, swollen with irony and dear, but they were also undeniably cool â€” that’s why David O. Russell‘s updating of the scene for "Three Kings" was so good. As George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze pull into an oppressively quiet, dusty village in Iraq, the soundtrack swells: the Beach Boys’ "I Get Around." The music video that never was?
In his review of "Jarhead," David Poland dislikes what Sarris finds so powerful:
Jarhead is the Seinfeld of the holiday movie seasonâ€¦ a movie about nothing…As I start to write a little about story, I think I should offer that there will be no spoiler warning because, again, nothing happens. The only spoiler is, in fact, that nothing really happens because there is no tension either.
It goes on along the same lines. Poland’s smart and impossibly prolific, but we rarely agree with him when it comes to review. Nevertheless, an interesting pair. We’re cautiously optimistic.
+ Mendes’ Memoir-Pic Jarhead: What Happened ‘Over There’? (NY Observer)
+ October 27, 2005 (The Hot Button)