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PCR # 293  (Vol. 6, No. 44)  This edition is for the week of October 31--November 6, 2005.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith
Four stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Saarsgard, Chris Cooper, Dennis Haysbert and Jamie Foxx
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Rated: R
Running Time: 2 hours

Welcome to the suck! That is how new Marine Anthony Swofford (Gyllenhaal) is greeted when he joins his company. Gung-ho through and through, Swofford wants nothing but to follow in his father's footsteps and fight for his country. He even proves he is worthy to be chosen as a scout/sniper. But he's tired of shooting at targets. He can't wait to get an enemy officer in his cross hairs and pull the trigger. It's the time before the first Iraq war, and Swafford's unit is sent to the desert as part of Operation Desert Shield. He's finally going to see some action. Isn't he?

When your first film ("American Beauty") wins you an Oscar and your second ("Road to Perdition") convinces the world that Tom Hanks can be a bad guy, what do you do next? Director Sam Mendes has chosen a story told first hand about the struggles of war. Or lack of it. Based on Swofford's book of the same name, "Jarhead" is best described as a war film with very little war. Though Swafford and his platoon mates are chomping at the bit to get into the battle, the majority of their time is spent playing football, betting on scorpion fights and adding pictures of their unfaithful wives and girlfriends to the compound's "Wall of Shame." And hydrating. Especially hydrating. As Groucho Marx used to say, the secret word is HYDRATING. Water is consumed by the gallons to keep the warriors ready for battle. But it's the waiting that is the enemy, not the Iraqi army. So by the time the operation goes from Desert Shield to Desert Storm, the men are almost crazy from the anticipation.

"Jarhead" may remind you of other films, most notably "Full Metal Jacket." Like the Kubrick film, the recruits are submitted to a tough talking drill instructor who verbally and physically berates the men in an effort to weed out the weak. "How many times did your daddy talk about Vietnam," he barks at Swafford. "Only once," is the reply. "Then he wasn't lying!" The drill instructor's job is to motivate these men and a scene in the base theatre, with the Marines shouting out the "dum da da dum dums" of Wagner's "March of the Valkries" while watching "Apocalypse Now" demonstrates how well he does his work. Swafford is also similar to "Full Metal Jacket's" Private Joker, who also longed to get into the fray, only to realize it wasn't what he expected.

The performances are first-rate across the board, with Peter Saarsgard, who plays Swofford's spotter, almost certain to pick up his first Oscar nomination. Gyllenhaal performs admirably in what, for him, is a very different role. Along with his work in the upcoming "Brokeback Mountain," he has established himself as an actor of uncommon range. Foxx, in his last pre-"Ray" performance, also excels as the lifer platoon sergeant who does it by the book or doesn't do it at all. Mendes paces the film well and the photography by five time Oscar nominee and longtime Coen brother cinematographer Roger Deakins is breathtaking.

After the screening I attended, several of my fellow critics tried to find a message in the film. Was it an indictment on war? A comment on the current situation in Iraq? I really have no idea. To me it was a great film. That's the message I'm sending. On a scale of zero to four stars, I give "Jarhead"  Four stars

(Editors note: an earlier edition of this review indicated Peter Saarsgard was an Oscar-nominee for earlier work; he was not. Also, the spelling of the character Swofford was misspelled as "Swafford". We regret the errors. ---Nolan)

This week's movie review of "Jarhead" is ©2005 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2005, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.