Jarhead - (Region A Import Blu-ray Disc)
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Victor, South Africa. 14 January 2016
"Jarhead" is a war movie that rises above the war and tells a soldier's story. It tells it with the urgency and pointlessness that all men's stories have, because if something has happened to us, then it is important to us no matter how indifferent the world may be.
"Four days, four hours, one minute. That was my war," the Marine sniper Tony Swofford tells us. "I never shot my rifle."
The movie is uncanny in its effect. It contains no heroism, little action, no easy laughs. It is about men who are exhausted, bored, lonely, trained to the point of obsession and given no opportunity to use their training. The most dramatic scene in the movie comes when Swofford has an enemy officer in the crosshairs of his gun-sight and is forbidden to fire because his shot may give advance warning of an air strike.
The movie is based on the best-selling 2003 memoir Jarhead by Anthony Swofford, who served in the first Gulf War. It is unlike most war movies in that it focuses entirely on the personal experience of a young man caught up in the military process. At one point, Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) is being interviewed by a network newswoman who asks him why he serves. He has already given two or three routine answers. She persists, and finally he looks in the camera and says: "I'm 20 years old, and I was dumb enough to sign a contract."
His best friend is his spotter, Troy (Peter Sarsgaard). Their small unit of scout-snipers has been led through training by Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jamie Foxx), who knows why he serves: He loves his job. Others in the group include borderline psychos and screw-ups but mostly just average young Americans who have decided the only thing worse than fighting a war is waiting to fight one -- in the desert, when the temperature is 112 and it would be great for the TV cameras if they played a football game while wearing their anti-gas suits.
"Jarhead" is a story like Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That, in the way it sees the big picture entirely in terms of the small details. Sykes briefs them about Saddam Hussein's invasion of the Kuwait oil fields, but says their immediate task is to guard the oil of "our friends, the Sauds." This they do by killing time. The narration includes one passage that sounds lifted straight from the book, in which Swofford lists the ways they get through the days: They train, they sleep, they watch TV and videos, they get in pointless fights, they read letters from home and write letters to home, and mostly they masturbate.
"Jarhead" was directed by Sam Mendes ("American Beauty"), and it is the other side of the coin of David O. Russell's "Three Kings," also about the Gulf War. If Russell had Catch-22 as his guide, it is instructive that the book Swofford is reading is The Stranger by Camus. The movie captures the tone of Camus' narrator, who knows what has happened but not why, nor what it means to him, nor why it happens to him. Against this existential void, the men of the sniper unit shore up friendships and rituals. Their sergeant is a hard-ass, not because he is pathological but because he wants to prepare them to save their lives. They are ready. They have been trained into a frenzy of readiness, and all they find on every side, beautifully visualized by the film, is a vastness -- first sand, then sand covered with a black rain, then skies red with unchanging flames 24 hours a day.
It is not often that a movie catches exactly what it was like to be this person in this place at this time, but "Jarhead" does. They say a story can be defined by how its characters change. For the rest of his life, Swofford tells us, whether he holds it or not, his rifle will always be a part of his body. It wasn't like that when the story began.
Region A - Includes most North, Central and South American countries and South-east Asian countries including the Republic of China (Taiwan), Hong Kong, Japan and Korea.