Hollywood has proven in countless films that war is hell, but director Sam Mendes' new film “Jarhead” effectively shows how even the idea of combat can have a lasting effect.
Based on a novel by former Marine Anthony Swofford, “Jarhead” paints a compelling portrait of a group of soldiers in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm who never went into battle but came back with plenty of emotional scars.
The film follows Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) through boot camp and into active duty as a member of an elite group of Marine snipers.
When Swofford and his platoon are deployed to Kuwait, the initial reaction is joy and eagerness to fight for their country. But as the days mount and the months without seeing combat drags on, the soldiers look for ways to keep sane in somewhat insane circumstances.
While the ads have suggested a modern day “Full Metal Jacket,” “Jarhead” is actually quite different from Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam classic. This film is about what happens to soldiers waiting to go to war.
Although some people might argue nothing happens, that is what I found so compelling. These soldiers wanted action, any action, just to feel justified for the life they left behind and Mendes (who won an Oscar for “American Beauty”) does a great job of showing that anguish.
The cast is excellent, too.
Gyllenhaal perfectly captures a doe-eyed, all-American boy who is hardened by his experiences. Peter Skaarsgard, an underrated actor, gives another strong performance, while Jamie Foxx puts his “Stealth” misstep behind him with a compelling turn as the head of Swofford's platoon.
The cast is nearly upstaged by stunning cinematography - especially during a sequence where the Marines march through a field of burning oil wells.
“Jarhead” has a lot going for it, but it doesn't have quite enough to put it on the same level as “Full Metal Jacket,” “Apocalypse Now,” or even “Platoon.”
I would probably place “Jarhead” a step or two behind all those films, but it is still good enough to stand solidly in the second tier of outstanding war films.
DVD dandy of the week
This week's dandy is “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (A-), director Tim Burton's delightful remake filled with stunning visuals and a lot of fun performances, headlined by Johnny Depp.
In this retelling of the Roald Dahl novel, Depp plays the reclusive candy maker Willy Wonka. As the film opens, Wonka has decided to allow five children a chance to win a tour of his chocolate factory by putting five golden tickets in his chocolate bars.
One of the winners is Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), who lives in a tilted shack with his grandparents and his mom and dad and spends most of his time dreaming about the candy his family usually is unable to afford.
“Charlie” may well be the best-looking film I have seen this year - even more visually appealing than the superb work by Robert Rodriguez in “Sin City.”
Burton's direction is sharp and the movie is a feast for the eyes. With each scene, Burton gives audiences another piece of a unique world from the tilted house of the Buckets, to the many rooms the children discover inside the chocolate factory. There are still five months left in 2005, but I'd be surprised if I see a movie more deserving of Oscars for visual effects and art direction.
“Charlie” is sure to draw comparisons to the 1971 original starring Gene Wilder. As someone who only vaguely remembers seeing that film, it's hard for me to compare it to this remake. I can compare “Charlie” to other 2005 releases, though, and it is clearly one of this year's most enjoyable.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is rated PG for quirky situations, action and mild language and is available now on DVD.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx
Director: Sam Mendes
Rating: R for language, some violent images and strong sexual content
Playing at: Great Escape 12, Highland Cinemas (Glasgow)
- Sportswriter/ movie reviewer Micheal Compton is gearing up for the busy holiday rush of movies with an intense training regimen that includes sitting in the dark and working on grabbing the popcorn with either hand. If you'd like to reach him, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He might even be able to find time from his busy schedule to reply.