Jarhead catches lightening in a bottle

Most war movies would lead you to believe war is suspended sanity and unending horror. Dead bodies piled on top of more dead bodies.

However, during the Gulf War, it is just suspended action and unending boredom.

In a war not exactly known for its bloodshed, it should come as no surprise that some soldiers never even fired their rifle.

Yet, Universal Studio’s newest film took one hour and 55 minutes to establish this peculiar fact.

“Jarhead,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx and Peter Sarsgaard, is the big screen adaptation of former Marine Anthony Swofford’s best selling war account. The non-fiction book of the same name describes Swofford and his platoon’s endless waiting in the Saudi Arabian desert when Desert Shield was in full affect.

Luckily, the story of several eager-to-kill men thrown together in a scorching desert with nothing to kill is more than an engaging tale. It’s a darn good time.

Gyllenhaal is slightly sarcastic and occasionally borderline psychotic, while Swofford is believable and bittersweet. He puts his intense baby blue eyes, sculpted body and perpetual smirk to use in “Jarhead.”

Though it’s unlike your average war movie in many ways (most notably the lack of killing) there are certainly parallels to be drawn between it and favorites like “Apocalypse Now” and “Full Metal Jacket.”

The first 20 minutes of “Jarhead” details Swofford’s introduction to military life via boot camp, which is as usual, unpleasant. But the yelling of “sir, yes sir” soon ends and unwanted quiet commences when the men are dropped off in the desert.

Through scenes depicting the odd ways in which the Marines choose to pass their time (playing football in gas masks or betting on scorpion fights) it becomes clear that Desert Shield was a slow spiral into insanity for some soldiers. Instructed to leave the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” behind because it doesn’t apply in war and told they would have the opportunity to avenge the Iraqi’s torment of Kurds, the men are then left merely to watch oil fields.

The men thirst for something more than the daily hydration forced upon them. Even after the platoon’s 175 days of Desert Shield duties segue into Desert Storm, the action is few and far. The soldiers spread out into the desert looking for a fight, but find burning oil fields instead.

Tense conversations between highly emotional Marines and subtly beautiful cinematography make the desert scenes less repetitive and far more captivating than one would expect.

“Jarhead” captures the nuances of emotions that would reap in any red-blooded American male. Academy award-winning director Sam Mendes, who captured fame from directing “American Beauty,” carefully constructs a film about men at war while refusing to delve too deeply into the war itself. It is made clear that the important part is not the politics, but the young soldiers who have to deal with the policies.

One point Mendes opts not to make is any direct statement about the present war in Iraq. This may be frustrating to some, but “Jarhead” truly maintains its relevance and rings true by refraining from being preachy. However, Operation Iraqi Freedom doesn’t escape entirely unscathed.

Swofford, once home from the war, looks back at his experience and declares, “Every war is different. Every war is the same. We are still in the desert.” Hoo-rah!

Contact Tara-Lynne S. Pixley at famuanlifestyles@hotmail.com