Jarhead

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(2005) ★★★

BBC3: Sunday 6 September, 21.00pm

Marine Corps recruit Jake Gyllenhaal reports for training in 1989, serenaded by Bobby ΩMcFerrin’s Don’t Worry (Be Happy) on the soundtrack. So, straight from the outset, it’s apparent that Jarhead is not going to be a regulation military exercise. Staff sergeant Jami Foxx gives the rookies very good advice in very bad language. Snipers do not work alone, they’re a team: spotter and shooter. Jake finds his range as a sniper, Peter Sarsgaard is his spotter. When Iraq invades Kuwait they take their place in Desert Shield – protect the oilfields. “You will maintain a state of suspicious alertness!” insists battalion commander Chris Cooper.

The frustrated troops patrol an empty desert, throw grenades nowhere, shoot at nothing, navigate imaginary minefields. When the righteous hammer of God does come down, the desert becomes Dante’s Inferno, illuminated by the unearthly glow of oilfields ablaze. Every war is different, muses Foxx, every war’s the same. Adapted from ex-Marine Anthony Swofford’s best-selling memoirs, this gruelling drama is further evidence of British director Sam Mendes’ muscular approach to film-making. Donnie Darko star Gyllenhaal can do distracted with his eyes half-closed, and his bored Swofford is a watchful young man reared on stories of Vietnam, where his uncle and father served.

The morale-boosting film shown before the troops’ departure is Apocalypse Now, the audience singing along to Ride of the Valkyries. Mendes’ bitter film more closely resembles the brutal basic training of Full Metal Jacket, with a splash – just a splash – of Three Kings once they’re in the desert (which is actually Mexico, by the way). The unrelated 2014 sequel Jarhead 2: Field of Fire is an efficient, brutish war story, more like The Hurt Locker than any part of Mendes’ film. And, truth be told, more like a Behind Enemy Lines sequel than The Hurt Locker.

Certificate: 15
Duration: 123min

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Other Showings Date & Time
BBC3 Saturday, 12 September at 9:15PM