Jarhead – welcome to the suck


The story of Anthony Swofford, the former marine who wrote a best-seller on his pre-Desert Storm experiences in Saudi Arabia and his Kuwait fighting experiences.

Tony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) joins the U.S. Marines because there is nowhere else for him to go. He comes from a history of servicemen – his father and uncle both fought in Vietnam – and decides that the marine life might just be for him. He leaves behind his girlfriend and joins a bunch of misfits headed up by Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx) to fight against the Iraqis as a sniper. However, once in, Swofford wants out. He has huge insecurities about his life outside the Marines, and just wants to be back at home with his girlfriend.

So, after watching Nightcrawler (which, I know, still hasn’t been reviewed), I decided that Jake Gyllenhaal was to become the latest actor to obsess over. The first film of his I found was this one, soon followed by Brokeback Mountain which is still to be watched. As I’m sure I said in the little feature I did on Southpaw and Everest, he is easily one of the finest actors of his generation in many respects, and I now want to marry him a tiny bit. Gyllenhaal take on tough, gritty roles and puts on unforgettable performances, many of which have been credited by other Hollywood legends. Jarhead is yet another of those performances. Gyllenhaal bulked up for the role and became Swofford. He did not play him. He became him. I’ll admit right now that I know next to nothing about what life as a marine might be like, but I can imagine how gruelling it must be both physically and mentally, and the things that come to mind are very close to what Gyllenhaal portrayed here. You could clearly see the effects fighting in 120°F heat had on a man, or even a kid, seeing as Swofford was only twenty years old when he went to Kuwait, which is only a few years older than myself. This also brought home the reality of the fact that many of the young men going to war do it because it’s the only way they have of making a life for themselves, and in a matter of days, they could be dead. By the performance Gyllenhaal put on, it seemed as though this was something Swofford realised quickly. From beginning to end, Swofford matured massively, and this transformation was very enjoyable to watch – if that’s the right word.

Foxx was also brilliant as the hard-going sergeant. He had that typical no-nonsense, breathe-without-permission-and-you-die air about him, but you also know that, deep down, he only wanted to keep his squad safe. Yes, he was a total hard-ass at times, but he had everybody’s best interests at heart, and he looked out for the boys. He also brought a bit of comic relief in the way he spoke to some of the marines, and the scene with the TV crews was just fabulous.

After watching Jarhead, I’d really like to now read Swofford’s book from which the film originated. His story seems to really capture the brotherhood and emotions experienced by those who go to fight overseas.

I would definitely say that Jarhead is worth a watch. It may not quite be Saving Private Ryan if Full Metal Jacket, but it’s still a very worthwhile film and some of the performances are very good – plus there’s Gyllenhaal, and like Morgan Freeman, he’s never a bad addition to the cast. 


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Kira Comerford

Film and TV lover with hopes to one day make my own projects for everyone to enjoy. Until then, I'm giving my thoughts on what I watch for inspiration.

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