Jarhead (2005)

Genre(s): Drama / War
Universal || R - 123 minutes - $29.98 || March 7th, 2006
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2006-03-11

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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

A U D I O &
.:: V I D E O ::.

Audio and Video

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Director: Sam Mendes
Writer(s): Anthony Swofford (book), William Broyles Jr. (screenplay)
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Lucas Black, Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper

Theatrical Release Date: November 4th, 2005

Supplemental Material:
  • Director Commentary
  • Screenwriter & Novelist Commentary
  • Deleted Scenes
  • News Interviews in Full

Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (2.35)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.


Plot Outline (from DVD back cover): Jarhead (the self-imposed moniker of the Marines) follows Swoff (Gyllenhaal) from a sobering stint in boot camp to active duty, where he sports a sniper rifle through Middle East deserts that provide no cover from the heat or Iraqi soldiers. Swoff and his fellow Marines sustain themselves with sardonic humanity and wicked comedy on blazing desert fields in a country they don't understand against an enemy they can't see for a casue they don't fully grasp.

Unlike my colleague, Chris, I wasn't as enthused about Jarhead after seeing the trailer, but I wanted to see the movie directed by the man behind American Beauty, my favorite movie of 1999 -- and a top 20 flick on my personal list --, and with a cast that includes Jake Gyllenhaal, a recent Oscar nominee (Brokeback Mountain) as well as Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass), Lucas Black and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx (Ray), my expectations were a bit higher than normal. What came forth was both good and bad.

While some question the real life Swofford's accounts in Operation Dessert Storm (and the non-action that preceded it), it does give some insight (at least for me) into what these soldiers endured in fighting a war that lasted only a few months (though a majority of the fighting came by air than Swoffs' Marine unit).

Although I didn't find the film all too compelling, I do respect lead actor Gyllenhaal, an actor who doesn't shy away from taking controversial roles. I didn't feel, however, that his performance was anything profound or noteworthy. Is it a flaw with him as an actor or the script? I'd say the latter as novels have a tough time getting properly translated to the big screen, a few like The Silence of the Lambs, 25th Hour and To Kill a Mockingbird are certainly exceptions. It's not to say the majority fail, but since a book can contain so much about a character and the screen is limited, screenwriters must pick and choose what can go on the big screen. Unfortunately, Hollywood buys rights to novels that on paper sound cool but cannot be translated faithfully (though in the end, sometimes the movie is still good, just not great - see: Red Dragon, The Sum of All Fears and Hearts in Atlantis). Jarhead, despite all-star players in front and behind the camera, is one of those.

Visually, it's one of the best I've seen of the year and probably the past decade and for that reason alone, Jarhead is worth renting; add in some hard-hitting, thought provoking scenes and some good acting, it is a movie you should see. I cannot, however, recommend buying unless you're a fan of other war films (like Platoon or Full Metal Jacket) as its replay value is limited.


Director Commentary - Sam Mendes gives a Trivial Pursuit on how the film was made and various tid bits - like how miserable it was for the actors to work in a rain machine (Mendes reveals these machines are very powerful and produce more water as only some of it is captured on camera. He also explains what each scene is about that is, in a way, telestrating but not in the annoying way; instead it was all in all, interesting.

Writer and Author Commentary - Two former military guys, screenwriter William Broyles Jr. and novelist Anthony Swofford trade stories about their duties, the making of the movie, and details on certain scenes. The two fill up the time well and keep it interesting for the listener.

Swoff's Fantasies - Basically these are more deleted scenes that add in another sub plot (of sorts). Originally, Mendes and the others were going to use these sporadically throughout but they didn't work in the film overall. There are four of these and they are pretty funny ("T.I. in a Dress", "Exploding Major"), and one of them would've been great ("Swoff's Kill") in the film and possibly could've still worked without the rest (though the others establish Swoff's fantasies). These are also accompanied by commentary with Mendes and editor Walter Murch.

Deleted Scenes - There are 11 scenes totaling around 19-minutes and include an optional commentary track with Mendes and Murch who explain why they were deleted. Most of the time, scenes are deleted for pacing, but Mendes explains that they found better alternates that worked for the film. One of these was an alternate opening with Sam Rockwell as Swofford's military uncle talking about their family history (his father and grandfather served). None of the scenes were great, although you do get some background into Troy's (Sarsgaard) character.

If I correctly recall, a lot of these were used in the theatrical trailer, but I can't be sure since the DVD doesn't include the trailers...

News Interviews in Full - The longest feature of the bunch uses the full-length interviews seen in limit before. Most of it gets a tad boring, but a few (like Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard) are worth watching. At nearly 17-minutes and several of the key characters, I wish they had split these up into separate chapters, making it easier to find your favorite.

Note: The 2-Disc Collector's Edition includes 3 bonus material: "Jarhead Diaries", "Semper Fi" and "Background". I only have the single disc release but personally, that is more than enough and not worth the extra dollars.



Picture: Jarhead looks fine given what director Mendes wanted to show, which is washed out and grainy to present harsh Middle-Eastern desert. Indoor scenes also come across nicely with more muted colors, though the detail was great.

The picture is presented in its original 2.35 aspect ratio.

Sound: We are given the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix that sounds very good. While this isn't a movie with a ton of action scenes, but a DTS track would've provided a deeper sound... However, what's there is perfectly fine as well.


Itís a great film, a great video transfer, and great audio, but the extras relied too much on the deleted scenes of the film and not enough about the actual making, which Iím sure would be provided on the 2 disc set. But, if youíre interested solely in the film this is a great presentation and I couldnít see how anyone could be upset with it.