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Movie Review

Jarhead (16)

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1 of 1 Gyllenhaal is flawless
Gyllenhaal is flawless

Directed by Sam Mendes, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Lucas Black, Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper.

'Jarhead' is an adaptation of the bestselling 2003 memoir of the same name by Anthony Swofford, a former US Marine who served in the 1991 Gulf War.

Swofford (Gyllenhaal) was pushed into duty by a sense of hereditary obligation to follow in his forefathers' footsteps and lured by the prospect of promiscuity with prostitutes in exotic locations. Picked to enter an elite squad of snipers, 'Swoff' is flown to Saudi Arabia to take part in Operation Desert Shield, which was the precursor to Desert Storm.

Once there, he is tormented by the thoughts of an unfaithful girlfriend at home, haunted by his decision to enter the Corps, fearful of imminent death and yet exhilarated by the prospect of landing his first 'kill'. He, like many of his young colleagues, is a litany of contradictions, confused by the faceless nature of the enemy in modern warfare.

When Swofford left the marines, he attended various colleges to hone his writing skills. He may have been a proud warrior, but his literary talents far outweigh anything he achieved with a rifle.

You'd think that the combination of a thoroughly engaging and brutally honest war novel and an Oscar-winning director like Mendes ('American Beauty') would yield seismic results. It doesn't.

It doesn't because the screenplay, written by William Broyles, fails to capture some of the most interesting aspects of the book, which gives a unique insight into the psyche of an intelligent young man who finds himself in a situation no person in this day and age should have to experience.

The circumstances that veered him towards the service and some of the encounters he had as a result after the Gulf are central to the book. They have been widely sacrificed to make a neat chronological tale of training for, and engaging in, war.

Granted, attempting to fit in almost everything would have been extremely difficult. We may have had to endure several jumps along the space-time continuum and deal with as many cuts to flashbacks as an episode of 'Family Guy'. Even so, it would have been worth it. Maybe not as commercially viable, but still worth it.

Another sore point is how the film is being marketed. The trailer for the movie would make anyone who hasn't read the book think that it's a US Marines propaganda tool. Don't be fooled. This is not a pro-war movie. This is not an anti-war movie. It is a frank recollection of how it actually was for Swofford in the desert in 1991. There are many funny moments and comic incidents. They are, however, not the cornerstone of the story and should not, therefore, be portrayed as such.

The fact that the US Marines' hierarchy come out looking about as competent as Basil Fawlty is a product purely of that organisation's own making.

But let's not be too negative. Swofford's story is still spellbinding and Gyllenhaal's performance is flawless. He can also currently be seen in Irish cinemas in the critically-acclaimed 'Brokeback Mountain'. At 25, the lad has a bright future. Lucas Black also puts in a good showing as Kruger, a Texan who isn't afraid to speak his mind about what he thinks is motivating the conflict.

However, it is Sarsgaard who possibly steals the show as Troy. Thoughtful and detached, bordering on unhinged, Troy wants a 'kill' to his name more than anything else in the world. Sarsgaard illustrates that sheer desperation to take life perfectly, and his chemistry with Gyllenhaal succinctly captures the unmistakable bond that exists between brothers in arms.

Whatever its faults, 'Jarhead' is definitely one of the most important releases of the year.

Séamus Leonard

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