Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Anyone who wants to give Jamie Foxx guff for following up RAY with STEALTH has it all wrong. JARHEAD is the first real post-Oscar test for Foxx. In fact, he won his Oscar right in the middle of shooting, so can you imagine what he must have gone through the next day on-set?
Of course, Sam Mendes is the main attraction here. He’s put together a fantastic cast, and he’s working from a pretty damn good script by Bill Broyles. I knew this was testing tonight, but my wife wanted to go see a press screening of THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, and since she’s been at home pretty much continuously from the moment we brought Toshi home, I was more than happy to let her decide what to do tonight. Sounds like it went well in Sherman Oaks, though. Check out this first one:
Long-time fan. First-time writer.
I attended a test screening of Sam Medes' new flick Jarhead last night in Sherman Oaks. It was only the third test screening I've ever gone (The Tuxedo and Collateral being the other two).
Suffice to say, I had high expectations. I loved American Beauty and liked Road to Perdition. Maybe I'm biased... but the truth is, I like Sam Medes and looked forward to seeing this, strictly for him.
In case you need some background so as to know where I'm coming from... I'm a personal trainer... I'm not very political... and I've never been in the armed forces. I just love movies.
Where to start? I'll keep spoilers to a minimum.
I definitely liked the movie. I didn't love it immensely... but I definitely could depending on what editing they do henceforth.
The tone is vintage Medes... dark, humorous, and at times touching. It follows the life of Anthony Swofford as he joins the marines and fights his way through boot camp. Swofford is of course, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (SP?).
Swofford isn't Tom Cruise from Born on the 4th of July. He's just a guy... as he says "was stupid enough to sign a contract when he was young". Now of course, we're going to war and he's expected to do his duty. He does this with a numbing feeling that maybe this all doesn't make sense. Is he being brainwashed? Does he really want to be a marine?
Sometimes we feel like he does, but most of the time not. He is prone to occassional outbursts and emotional episodes. He is, at times... losing his mind. Most of the marines are. The guy's confused, as well he should be
The movie certainly represents the division of attitudes toward the marine corps, even from those within it. For this reason alone, the movie will spark controversy. The book did, so there's no reason to think the film won't. The pre-talk on message boards confirms that.
I'll stay away from that and stick to my opinions as a movie goer.
The Acting. Gyllenhaal is good. It's certainly a leap forward for him. He's a fine young actor, but for once isn't in his typical lost kid role. He's a lost man this time around. Only his character goes through a wave of emotions... anger, helplessness, shame, embarassment, kindness, and craziness. I am suprised to say, he pulled them all off. It's a sign of maturity in an actor when he can tackle a challenging role while still finding a way to bring his own charm to the character. Good job Jake.
Jaimie Foxx is good, as expected. No statues this time around, but he certainly pulled off the Sgt. demeanor nicely.
The real treat is Peter Sarsgaard. I don't know Harry... this guy just brings subtle nuances to every character he plays. I liked him in Garden State. Loved him in Shattered Glass. And certainly like him here. He took what could be a very stock character and gave him heart. It's almost unseen... but you know it's there. He has a beautiul scene toward the end where he finally breaks down in the midst of war. And for completely different reasons than any other war movie I've seen lately.
There are two scenes that stood out for me as the best representation of the movie. One short. One long.
The long one involves a quiet conversation between Foxx and Jake on the dark desert of Kuwait as oil fields burn around them. Foxx talks about how he could be back home selling dry wall with his brother... how he could have a nice life if he gave up the Corps. But in the end, he stays put because he loves being in the Corps. He's a proud marine who relishes his day-to-day activities. A lifer. When he asks Jake if he feels the same way... Jake nods... obviously lying and wondering how in the hell Foxx could think that. It's the division of theories I discussed before. And the truth is, you're not sure who to side with. You get both points of view... and yet you feel sympathetic to both characters.
The other scene is a short scene toward the end that involves Jake running for a new battery amidst explosions and fire. Upon finding out their batteries are dead, Jake is summoned to run across the desert with impossible odds of returning the batteries to Sarsgaard.
This is our first taste of actual war in the film, and Mendes captures it perfectly. These guys have been training for months and years for this moment. They are warriors... but when the fighting breaks out... it comes down to Jake running and whispering to himself...
"Do not fucking die! Do not fucking die"
Jake finally reaches a bunker.... only to find two marines arguing over the size of their safe hole (played by the Office's Jon Krasinski and unknown Kurt Larson). War is chaos. And it's best represented here. Young men scared for their lives. Jake just wants to survive... so much so that he doesn't even here Larson yell "those are the dead batteries". He grabs them and runs... thus foiling his sole attempt thus far to do something heroic.
The fact that these soldiers are arguing about the size of their holes is absurd in all the human, realistic ways they should be. It's a small scene... but to me, it's scenes like this that sum up why Mendes is as good as he is. Small nuances that enhance the overall project.
Some more small stuff... the music is AWESOME. It's the Gulf War, not Vietnam. At one point, Swofford hears a helicopter blasting the Doors "Break on Through" and yells out "Can't we get our own fucking music?"
And they do. Lots of Nirvana. There's a brilliant sequence played along to "Something in the Way" that is just dead-on. The soundtrack is perfect.
The cinematography is awesome, as expected.
My main problem with the film is the ending. I don't need to see a recap of where everyone is now. I like the idea that he's been through war... it's over quick... and he'll never be the same. That and an extended football sequence that I could see was useful, but it just went on too long.
They definitely showcase the horror of war, don't worry. Oil-covered horses, bodies charred to a crisp, nerve gas and the effects on people who ingest it... it's all there.
I commend Medes for taking on such a taboo subject and making it seem so real and not just a bunch of fake posing with Flags in the background. Yet, it's not so overtly political that it distracts from the entertaining aspect.
With some key editing, this film will get some strong consideration come Oscar time. More than anything I took two things away from this film...
I felt like I really learned more about the life of a Marine. We're enveloped into their culture and the horrors they go through. In saying that, let me make this clear... out of absolute respect for those that serve... I am in no way saying I have ANY idea what it's like to be in the Marines just from this movie. I have no idea whatsover. Just as I don't know what it's like to play baseball after seeing The Natural. I have a better understanding though, that's all.
The other thing that I took away from it is the fact that I might just have seen the next generation of fine actors all in one film. One of those movies that breaks out and years later you're looking at all the guys who've gone on to bigger things. Gyllenhaal, Lucas Black, Laz Alonso, Peter Sarsgaard, and even Kransinski and Larson in their small scene.
Who knows? I could be wrong.
I recommend this film and give it 3 out of four stars. I wouldn't recommend it to people who just want lite fair (a la Armageddon). This is a much more thought-provoking film than that.
I tell you what, I'm very interested in seeing where it goes from here. And talking with my buddy who is erving in Iraq about his thoughts on the film. That's just the truth.
Thanks Harry, if you use this call me VITO.
Wow. Want to hear someone else gush?
Just got back from seeing a preview of “Jarhead,” the Gulf War film starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, and Peter Sarsgaard. As you all probably know, it’s based on a best-selling book by (and about) Anthony Swofford who served in a sniper unit of the Marines. I never read the book, but now I just may pick it up because the movie was absolutely incredible. Yes, this will be a glowing review… I’ve seen plenty of shit that I haven’t written to you about… this is too good to not talk about. It may not be for everyone (just try selling this to mainstream-movie going women), but that’s what’s kind of sad about the whole thing. We (meaning, me: a guy who is soft from his belly to the palms of his hands (insert masturbation joke here)), all say that we support our troops. And we (meaning me) do. But how much do we really know what they are going through? How much do we want to know? This movie, much like the awesome documentary, “Gunner Palace,” allows us to see who we (meaning, the government) are sending out to war. This is a story about boys becoming men and men becoming the heroes we praise, but cannot come close to understanding.
First of all, this isn’t a political movie. Early on, Peter Sarsgaard says, “Fuck politics. We’re here now. And that’s all that matters.” The movie stays true to that. Apart from a few logical comments & doubts from some troops, it’s not about government. The interesting thing is that it’s barely a war movie... it’s more about the warrior. About an hour-and-a-half into the movie (which was about 2 hours long), Operation Desert Storm finally kicks in. The rest of the time, we’re living in Desert Shield, where the troops were guarding oil wells and, basically, doing drills. But this is when we meet the small group of Marines who will go through good times, quiet times, and hellish scenarios together.
The most obvious initial comparisons can be made to "Three Kings" and the first half of “Full Metal Jacket,” but “Jarhead” takes a different approach. Yes, training is brutal. There is abuse. There is exhaustion. But there is also an incredible amount of fun to be had. Before anyone jumps down my throat, this definitely doesn’t glamorize combat or the military, but it reinforces that there are real people going through this shit. They make the best of what they have and of the situations they’re placed in.
So, I’m having trouble getting around to describing the plot because, well, this isn’t a plot-driven movie. There is no one single mission that they’ve all been training for. This is a character piece. Again, it’s primarily about Swofford, but we get to be close to Jamie Foxx’s Staff Sargeant Sykes and Peter Sarsgaard’s character, Troy (thanks to Imdb for that name). We see them bond, we see them go through hell, we see them give each other hell… and we see them wait. And wait. And wait. They’re all just waiting for something to happen. And, as they wait, they start realizing that the world at home has moved on. Girlfriends have moved on. Families have become distant. Babies are born while the fathers are worlds away. They find the most security in each other. In the Marines. And in the uncertainty. No one at home can understand this… and they slowly become aware that they are changing.
As for the acting, I can’t believe how good Jake Gyllenhaal is. I’ve respected him in a few roles, but I’ve grown tired of his ever-sullen characters. Here, he breaks through with a fully-realized character who is, at once, sensitive and brash. Controlled and uncontrollable. And the dude started lifting weights. Peter Sarsgaard is great, of course. I have yet to see him be bad, but his character slowly builds to its key moment in the last twenty minutes. He’s amazing. Jamie Foxx is really good at his Staff Sargeant role: brutal, biting, serious, and hilarious. I don’t expect him to shed another tear at the Oscars podium this year, but a damned fine performance.
Sam Mendes directed this and he’s light years away, thematically, from “American Beauty,” but you can tell that his touch is with fleshed-out characterizations. And there are some shots that are just so damned beautiful and unique (soldiers against burning oil fields).
One of the things that I loved about this movie is that it also shows how we’ve all become so used to war movies and how they’ve influenced our perceptions of war. There is a great scene where the troops are watching “Apocalypse Now.” This is before they had actually gone to war and, together, they act out the scenes, laugh, cheer, and jump around – probably hoping that their war would also be scored to Ride of the Valkyries… which it most definitely wasn’t. At one point, a helicopter passes over the troops while playing The Doors. Swofford looks up and screams, “That’s Vietnam, fucker!” This war was scored to Nirvana (on that note – all the music was temp, but I can’t imagine a better band than Nirvana to portray what this war was like).
The pacing could turn a lot of people off but, as a huge fan of war movies, I loved an approach that didn’t conventionalize war. I’ll never understand what happens over there. And the soldiers (in this film and in “Gunner Palace”) feel that no one truly cares. But I think I’m starting to understand… as much as I possible can understand… and, with that understanding, I’m really caring. All I really know is that I loved every minute of this. Damned funny at parts, damned serious at others (sometimes shifting tone within seconds)… I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product.
So, there we go. A glowing review. I’d be interested to read other reviews that may not be as positive… because I’m having a hard time figuring out what could be wrong about this movie.
- Swifty McGee