Coming off of American Beauty (one of cinema’s great debut films) in 1999 and Road to Perdition in 2002 the anticipation for Jarhead was through the roof (and that amazing trailer with Kayne doesn’t hurt) – and in that context— the film is a disappointment. The final achievement here in Jarhead isn’t on that level and some of the tonal and character issues keep it from being one of 2005’s best 4-5 films
A full-on Full Metal Jacket-opening with the drill sergeant hurling insults at Gyllenhaal – a great freeze with his head jammed into the chalkboard to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” as a music drop
Mendes’ first collaboration with Roger Deakins—Mendes worked with the great Conrad Hall on his first two films and Hall passed away in 2003 (winning the best cinematography Oscar for both American Beauty and Road to Perdition together in 1999 and 2002). Talk about Mendes’ dedication to supreme photography working with these two masterful DP’s. But, as a tribute to Mendes—this is also some of the very best work from Deakins and Hall and that is no accident.
Mendes go-to crew also includes Dennis Gassner as production design (Barton Fink, Bugsy, O, Brother) and Thomas Newman doing the score (Shawshank, Wall-E, American Beauty)—what an abundance of talent in front of and behind the camera here.
Voice-over work like Mendes’ first two films—wry
There’s an interesting paper to be written here about the use of Apocalypse Now and Deer Hunter in the text—especially Apocalypse Now—we have marines here in Jarhead cheering on the Ride of the Valkyries scene which is a criticism from Coppola (basically calling them Germans and invaders of a peaceful land (which is the scene we have here) in the first place. This is intentional in Jarhead– Mendes isn’t oblivious to the meaning. It’s just intriguing.
Gorgeous washed-out whites, the telephoto lens like Shariff’s arrival in Lawrence of Arabia in a sea of white sand and desert mirage
The sequence of protecting the oil fields is jaw-droppingly beautiful – the horse
We get the stand-alone shot of the sunset magic hour photography with silhouettes
At 48 minutes we get one hell of a frame- I’m so happy I found it—the shadows at night in the barracks
Desert storm period music— Naughty By Nature, Public Enemy and Nirvana…. I love the Tom Waits song as during the coming home montage
Like all of Mendes work we get a magnificent window shot—two actually (one at home and one in sniper tower)—showing the fracturing of life at war in contrast with home
The narrative motif blends with sexual release and the use of weapons… the metaphor comes off (there is language throughout like Chris Cooper’s speech) but I’m not sure the larger point does
A Highly Recommend film– leaning to a Must-See –at the very least a top 10 of the year quality work