In a Kuwaiti desert lit only by burning oil fields, Jarhead's main character runs into the unexpected. With oil raining down on him, U.S. marine Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds a tame horse walking only feet away. The horse, like everything else, is coated in oil. Its breathing is heavy. The animal seems burdened by the weight of its new slick coat. With pity, Swofford places his hand on the horse and mutters, "You're covered in this war."
This quote adequately describes everyone in Jarhead, a brutally realistic film about soldiers saturated in war. It sticks to them and seeps into every crevice of their lives. They wear it. They breathe it. They try to understand it. But, like that horse, it can't ever be washed off. It can't be ignored. In fact, war will never leave these soldiers. War becomes who they are.
Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, The Road to Perdition), Jarhead is based on the 2003 book by ex-marine Anthony Swofford. The movie follows Swofford as he enlists in the Marines because, his character says, "I got lost on my way to college." After basic training, Swofford becomes a scout sniper and is sent to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield. Separated from his beloved girlfriend, Kristina, Swofford and fellow soldiers place their attention on preparing for war—looking forward to warfare. And this is where the film stays for most of its runtime: with the soldiers' six-month wait for a war to start. They hydrate. They clean their rifles. They miss their girlfriends and wives. They exercise. They hydrate themselves more.
In all actuality, Jarhead—entitled for the nickname given to empty-headed Marine recruits—is not a war movie. This is not John Wayne. The day isn't saved. ...1
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