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Sam Mendes
Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris Cooper, Scott MacDonald, Lo Ming, Damion Poitier, Brianne Davis, Tyler Sedustine, Jacob Vargas
Writing Credits:
William Broyles Jr., Anthony Swofford (novel)

Welcome To The Suck.

Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx and Jake Gyllenhaal star in this critically acclaimed, brilliantly unconventional war story from Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes. 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 cause they don't fully grasp.

Box Office:
$70 million.
Opening Weekend
$27.726 million on 2411 screens.
Domestic Gross
$62.647 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 123 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 3/7/2006

• Audio Commentary with Director Sam Mendes
• Audio Commentary with Screenwriter William Broyles, Jr. and Author Anthony Swofford
• “Swoff’s Fantasies” with Optional Commentary
• “News Interviews in Full” with Optional Commentary
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Jarhead (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 6, 2006)

After bubbling below the surface for a while, Jake Gyllenhaal had a breakout year in 2005. He didn’t quite achieve household name status, but he became more prominent in the public eye, especially due to his presence in the year’s most controversial flick, Brokeback Mountain.

Jarhead gave him a lead role but didn’t have the same impact with critics or audiences. That shouldn’t connote that the flick flopped, though. Indeed, it offered a fairly involving and unusual experience.

Set in 1989, Jarhead casts Gyllenhaal as new Marine recruit Anthony “Swoff” Swofford. He immediately regrets his decision but finds a new opportunity when Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx) recruits him to be a scout sniper. Swoff passes his training and by 1990, he finds himself in Kuwait for Operation Desert Shield.

Jarhead follows their experiences there. We follow Swoff along with Sykes and fellow Marines like Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), Kruger (Lucas Black) and Fowler (Evan Jones). The movie shows their half a year of inactivity before it turns to Operation Desert Storm in January 1991.

Jarhead presents a distinctly unusual look at warfare. While most flicks of this short show military training and then actions perpetrated by the leads, Jarhead keeps the scout snipers out of direct conflict. They suffer from a serious case of shootus interruptus – whenever they come close to achieving the orgasm of gunfire, something cuts short their closure.

The film’s theme makes it different. Jarhead views the consequences of the creation of killing machines who never have the chance to fulfill their destiny. The movie’s all foreplay, and the Marines suffer from this extended tease.

That makes it intriguing. We constantly wait for the release to come, but the movie denies us that sense of completion. We grow almost as irritated and frustrated as the Marines.

In many ways, Jarhead feels like a companion to 1987’s Full Metal Jacket, at least due to the insolent way it views the military experience. However, I think Jarhead offers a more subtle and intelligent experience. I never cared for Kubrick’s dud, as I thought it lacked subtlety or creativity.

Jarhead comes across with greater depth and presents something we’ve not seen 100 times in the past. It slowly draws us into its tale of psychological pressure and the problems that come with inactivity. The film doesn’t beat us over the head with its thoughts, as instead it allows us to get involved with the characters and watch them slowly unravel.

The actors help make the flick work. Although the script doesn’t give the characters too much time to become much more than quick stereotypes, each performer manages to put his own stamp on matters. This means that they make the most of their screentime and form reasonably interesting personalities.

Gyllenhaal creates a particularly rich impression. At the film’s start, Swoff seems like little more than a smart semi-pacifist with a moderately abusive family background who ends up in the military as a last resort. We expect him to be the intelligent troublemaker, but he falls into line much more than anticipated. The character manages a subtlety that keeps him from falling into the standard traps, and that keeps us off-guard as we’re never quite sure what to make of him.

The same goes for the unpredictable Jarhead. Actually, I could anticipate some parts of the film, as I wasn’t surprised that the Marines never entered formal combat. Nonetheless, the movie presents a quirky and unusual take on warfare.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Jarhead appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The flick mostly looked good, though a few nagging concerns dropped my grade to a “B”.

Sharpness varied. Wide shots occasionally seemed slightly soft and ill-defined, largely due to the presence of some mild edge enhancement. Still, most of the picture seemed acceptably crisp and well-delineated. A little shimmering and a few jagged edges cropped up, but I noticed no signs of source flaws. The flick showed some light stylized grain but didn’t suffer from any actual defects.

Jarhead went with an intensely desaturated palette. A blown-out, high-contrast look dominated the flick. This was especially true in the desert, but even the basic training sequences lacked much color. That was fine for the movie’s visual design, so I found the colors to seem appropriate. Blacks were reasonably dense and deep, but shadows appeared erratic. Usually they looked acceptably smooth, but some shots were too thick and tough to discern. This all added up to a good picture but not one that seemed especially memorable.

More consistent pleasures came from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Jarhead. A solid soundfield, it just barely lacked the ambition to reach “A”-level. Not surprisingly, the mix came to life best during the battle sequences. Though our protagonists never became involved in the fight, it swarmed around them at times and created a lively, vivid setting. Bullets, explosions and vehicles zipped around us and made sure that we felt like we were part of the action.

Even during more passive sequences, the film offered a good soundscape. Music showed nice stereo presence, while environmental elements popped up in logical, natural locations. Although the mix only soared on occasion, it still formed a solid sense of atmosphere.

From start to finish, the flick boasted excellent audio quality. Speech was crisp and concise, with good intelligibility and no edginess. Music sounded bright and dynamic, and effects were very strong. They demonstrated fine clarity and accuracy, and the mix also featured positive bass response. This was a consistently fine track.

For this single-disc version of Jarhead, we get a mix of supplements. We begin with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Sam Mendes as he offers a running, screen-specific chat. He discusses story issues and the adaptation of the original book, improvisation, rehearsal and performances, locations, the movie’s visual style and color choices, political aspects of the tale, and general production notes. Across the board, Mendes offers a strong look at his film. He delves into the “whys” and “hows” of matters well and provides a nice sense of introspection. This ends up as a useful and enjoyable piece.

The second commentary presents screenwriter William Broyles, Jr. and author Anthony Swofford. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific discussion. They discuss adaptation issues, the facts behind the story, their experiences in the military, and reflections on the current situation in Iraq. (Broyles fought in Vietnam, and his son serves in Iraq now.)

At its best, this commentary provides a lot of good insight into the truth of military service and how it affects its participants. At times, the track drags, especially during the movie’s first half. Swofford seems slow to get involved with matters, so the piece doesn’t go much of anywhere until he begins to open up and engage with Broyles. I wish the commentary more consistently got into the real experiences behind the film, but it still offers a good take on the requisite issues.

Next comes Swoff’s Fantasies. Four of these appear, and they last a total of six minutes, 12 seconds. These were bits meant to run through the movie. They would have shown some imaginary images experienced by Swofford. They cut into scenes in the final flick and show a different perspective on matters. We can watch them with or without commentary from Mendes and editor Walter Murch. They explain what they meant to do with them and why they dropped them from the complete product.

A segment called News Interviews in Full goes for 16 minutes, 37 seconds. As with the “Fantasies”, these are essentially deleted scenes – or at least truncated scenes. They show more staged TV footage with Troy, Fowler, Fergus, Pinko, Escobar, Cortez, and Swoff. These are extended versions of the pieces found in the final flick. They’re interesting to see but none of the added material belonged in the finished film.

We can check these out with optional commentary from Mendes and Murch. They discuss the shooting of the scenes and how they cut down the elements for the completed flick. Some good notes appear, but there’s not a wealth of vivid information here.

11 Deleted Scenes fill a total of 19 minutes and eight seconds. We start with an alternate introduction set in 1983 that features a cameo from Sam Rockwell as Swoff’s Marine uncle. We also get more from boot camp and in the Middle East. The 1983 clip is definitely the most interesting of the bunch, but even it’s not especially memorable. None of the others stand out as particularly compelling.

As you might guess, these are available with or without commentary from Mendes and Murch. They offer solid information here. They give us background about the scenes and why they got the boot. I wasn’t terribly impressed with their statements for “Fantasies” and “News”, but their “Deleted Scenes” details merit a listen.

The DVD opens with two Previews. We get ads for Brokeback Mountain and E-Ring. No trailer for Jarhead appears on the DVD.

Unlike most war movies, Jarhead features combatants who never fire any shots. The flick concentrates on their psychological issues and how they deal with their inactivity, and it does so in an involving and well-realized manner. The DVD offers fairly good picture along with very strong audio. It also includes a few nice extras highlighted by two useful audio commentaries. Jarhead is a worthwhile movie and a solid DVD.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.875 Stars Number of Votes: 16
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