After the first so-called Gulf War -- which some might also refer to as "Iraq War I," "Desert Shield" or "Daddy vs. The Bad Man" -- it's arguable that the ground soldier became, at that time, obsolete. In fact, one could argue the very same thing after the second Gulf War, at least the part where we dropped bombs all over the place, everyone whooped it up like kids winning a video game, and our President set up some cameras on an aircraft carrier and declared victory.
However, with more than 2000 soldiers now dead, one would certainly not argue the ground soldier's obsolescence any longer. We've discovered that a soldier's true value lies not only in defeating the enemy, but in keeping the peace as well.
While being generally apolitical, director Sam Mendes's version of Anthony Swofford's memoir "Jarhead" dawdles with Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his Marine buddies during Gulf War I. Their unit provides the metaphor for the differences between the old warfare and the new. Essentially, Mendes, and perhaps Swofford as well, sees these men as existing in some kind of military strategy void. They have less to do than George W. Bush in the National Guard. Sharpshooter Swofford and his partner, Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), never even fire their weapons.
By side-stepping any political minefields while declaring the soldier's role shifted from integral hunter to bored, masturbating miscreant, Mendes gives his movie a pointless feel from the very start. This feeling is exacerbated by the inescapable contrast with the current reality of the troops on the ground trying to keep the peace in Iraq, fearing for their lives day after day.
The movie's opening scene is a red-headed stepchild rehash of R. Lee Ermey's profane tirade as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in front of his charges from "Full Metal Jacket," itself an extension of Louis Gossett Jr.'s performance in "An Officer and a Gentleman." That the scene itself is cinematically futile is high irony in a film about futility.
What the film then boils down to is a series of moments, all tied together by the setting. Unfortunately, the film never escapes the monotonous situation of its characters. The film is its characters, and this limitation proves to be its primary failure. The only new thing about this group is that Kuhn (Lucas Black) talks back to Staff Sgt. Siek (Jamie Foxx) and isn't thrown in the brig. However, if the Marines have changed the chain of command to include a "debate zone" between commanding officers and their soldiers, it's news to me and probably news to most Marines.
Like the real-life situation Anthony Swofford found himself in, "Jarhead" is just plain dull.
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