Sunday, May 14, 2006


Last night I settled down to watch the DVD of Jarhead after watching the return of The Cybermen in Doctor Who (which was very disappointing with some piss-poor acting from many of the guests, a slow, plodding script that scored a big fat zero for originality, and far too many 'suspend all disbelief if you want this to make any sense' moments).

For once (it doesn't happen that often) I found myself agreeing with most of the critics on this movie. After director Sam Mendes' superb American Beauty and Road to Perdition (unfairly dissed by most of the critics), this came as something of a disappointment. Not a bad movie, just one that didn't live up to the expectations this director has previously set.

Jarhead is very much a movie in two halves, and whilst the first half works well - mainly because of the action and the humour - the second half seems to get lost, as if the cast were improvising while they were shooting and didn't know where to take the story.

I can't fault the acting. I've wondered whether Jake Gyllenhaal can really deliver a range of emotions based on previous screen appearances where he pretty much seems to play himself - but have no such doubts after his 'buffed up' and note-perfect performance here. Peter Sarsgaard and Jamie Foxx are also stand-outs in a particularly strong cast.

Nor can I fault the cinematography - except perhaps that it's following the current tiresome fad for bleaching out all colour from a film to make it more arty rather than using natural colours - very tiresome and I blame Ridley Scott for starting the whole mess (For the worst recent example of this see The Constant Gardener and admire the endless shots of Ralph Fiennes' green stubble!). Over-bleached 'desert simulation' colour criticisms apart, there are some very nice and very iconic shots in the movie.

The dialogue is very good too. So what's the problem? I really can't put my finger on it, except that the film doesn't really seem to go anywhere in the last half. This is of course meant to be the core theme of the movie - that war is boring for the most part and often nothing at all happens (in fact, after the very negative 'nothing happens' reviews, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of things that DID happen) - and yet, this could have been better conveyed without leaving the viewer thinkiing "Oh, is that it?!" as I felt at the end of this film.

Ultimately, Jarhead is an interesting film, and one worth seeing, but not the GREAT film it should have been.

On the DVD the extra's are a real disappointment (although at least there's a commentary). Originally there was going to be a single-disk and a double-disk release, as per the States (although the two-disk release over there was a limited edition that was very hard to get hold of). For some reason the film company panicked over the poor reviews (just as they had done with The Island) and pulled the two-disk release at the last minute. So the good stuff originally intended for the second disk has all vanished into thin air, leaving just the 'token gesture' deleted scenes from the originally planned 'cheap and cheerful one disk' release.


Nigel said...

Glad you liked the card, and had a good weekend.
There was me telling people you were only 48!
I never know whether to comment on the relevant post, or the most recent one, in case you don't check the older ones. Anyway I will check in more often now, to make sure you keep it up.
Nice blog!

Nigel said...

Just watched this last night, and I thought it was very poor. I can hardly believe that it was edited by the great Walter Murch, because as you say, structurally it is a mess and the 2nd half goes nowhere.The first half was boringly formulaic too.
I have seen a lot of movies in this genre - Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Hamburger Hill, Born on the 4th July, GI Jane, Officer and a Gentleman, Apocalypse Now etc - and I think this is possibly the worst. Why they bothered making it I don't know. If you want to give the genre a new twist for a new generation and a new war, you need to do more than just replace the Doors with some Public Enemy music.
The acting and cinematography were good, but that is not enough to make up for a poor story and structure.