28 Oct

Welcome to the (doesn’t) suck.

Jarhead (in theaters November 4) is one of the best films I’ve seen all year. It starts out with a really tough first five minutes — you try not to cringe when Jake Gyllenhaal’s head is slammed against a blackboard — and then Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” starts playing, and it only gets better from there.

Here’s an easily digestible list of what I liked most about the film:

1. The acting — Jake Gyllenhaal is perfectly cast and gives a spot-on performance full of wide-eyed innocence, fear, and rage. Jamie Foxx and Peter Sarsgaard are also great.

2. The music — If you’ve seen the trailer, then you have an idea of just how effectively Jarhead blends music and imagery. I’ve never loved “O.P.P.” or “Fight the Power” as much as I did while watching this movie (though Liz loved “O.P.P.” even more because of Jake’s, um, stocking). There’s a great line when The Doors’ “Break on Through” plays from a helicopter overhead. And when the beat of Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” starts bom-bom-bom-bombombom-bom-bom’img over the end credits, well, it was hard not to walk with an extra groove in my step the rest of the night (this song will be on “repeat” mode for the next few days). But it’s not just the songs. When the soldiers touch down in Kuwait, the score by Thomas Newman is so exciting that it pumps you up and makes you wish you were going off to war too.

3. The imagery — Loved the oil rain storm. Loved the not-so-subtle way the soldiers’ tracks were brushing white sand over the dark sand. Stuff like that.

4. The first half hour — There’s no preamble about Gyllenhaal’s life back home. You’re instantly thrust into the film (see the aforementioned head being slammed into the blackboard). But it’s not just boot camp for the characters on screen. The introductory stuff is loud, harsh and exciting, and at least tonally, it mirrors what it must feel like to go through such intensive training. You want the combat to start and to see these guys kick ass.

5. The authenticity — Now, I don’t know much about what it’s like to be in the military (so maybe I shouldn’t call it “the authenticity”), but I do know my song lyrics, and as Tom Petty once sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.” We feel what these guys are going through. We see that war really can be less than it’s billed as, with the government’s CYA forms and positive PR efforts, and the sometimes long wait until you get to be a part of actual combat (these guys waited almost 150 days, and then Desert Storm only lasted four days). War is hell, and that’s not even counting the battle itself. Jarhead makes you wait and wait for almost nothing in the end. It’s a bummer for the characters, and you feel their frustration.

So yeah, I really liked Jarhead. It’s in my top five for the year; I rate it an A–.

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