Chapter One: So You Want to Write
A Memoir That Could Be Turned Into a Movie

Why I Can’t Desert the Desert

These times when Americans are divided in its presence in Iraq, but united in its support towards its troops, “Jarhead” seems appropriate. It’s not a war movie, but a soldier’s movie. More specifically, it’s the story of Anthony “Swoff” Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal), who enlists at the age of 20, becomes a U.S. Marine sniper, and “fights” during the 1991 Gulf War.

I think Swofford, as a character, is one credible soldier to watch. I hate it when soldiers are plainly depicted as either a reserved coward or a gung-ho Rambo wannabe. Swofford is a bit of both. He’s amped to fight, but has misgivings about doing it in the first place. He’s obedient and loyal, but he keeps a muffled grudge within. The more complex he is, the more believable the guy is. But that doesn’t mean he’s relatable. Viewers wanting to emotionally connect with Swofford will be disconnected. One’s have to go through the same shit as he did for sympathy to be possible. We can only sit back and try to understand him.

It’s not that this is such a bad thing. “Jarhead” is a great exercise in empathy. It really makes you ponder about a jarhead’s life, not necessarily live it. I thought military training is like a simulation of a psychotic serial killer’s childhood. You go through a phase of mental abuse. It’s kinna fucked up to do that to a person, but it’s an effective way to train a killer. The tragedy is – a soldier can neither reverse the mental abuse nor erase the horrific images of war. Towards the end, when Swoff is safely back home, he can’t help but feel he’s still in the desert.

Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Conrad L. Hall have given us stunning visuals in “American Beauty” and “Road to Perdition.” In this movie, they do not disappoint. The early scenes are bright and stark as daylight and in contrast, the final scenes are dark and surreal as a nightmare. Jake Gyllenhaal hits a career high here, although his performance in “Brokeback Mountain” will hog all the attention. Jamie Foxx is decent as Swoff’s Staff Sergeant, but the role lacks depth. Finally, I’d like to give props to Peter Sarsgaard who plays Swofford’s buddy Troy. I tell you this actor will get his Oscar someday. His work here is impressive as he was in “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Shattered Glass.”

You know, I’d be attracted to the idea of a second Jarhead movie. I’d want to compare the jarheads of the first Gulf War and of the existing Iraq war. I’m sure a current Marine would be inspired to write his own memoirs after watching this movie. In “Jarhead,” the men struggled with their feelings of futility and inaction. In the present war, Marines are in full-on action while dealing with increasing fatalities and Dubya’s dubious leadership. So which one is more of a hellish scenario? That would be interesting to explore. Sir, yes, sir.

Grade: A-

Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Jamie Foxx, Lucas Black, Chris Cooper, Skyler Stone, Wade Williams, Brian Geraghty, Evan Jones, Laz Alonso, Tyler Sedustine, Jocko Sims, Dennis Haysbert, Katherine Randolph
Screenplay by
William Broyles Jr.
Based on the memoirs of
Anthony Swofford
Directed by
Sam Mendes
Rated R for pervasive language, some violent images and strong sexual content