Viewers hoping for a brutal, pitch-black war comedy along the lines of M*A*S*H are in for a major disappointment. English director Sam Mendes (AMERICAN BEAUTY, ROAD TO PERDITION) drains Anthony Swofford's scathing, hilariously profane memoir about his stint as a Marine Corps sniper during the first Gulf War of much of its righteous anger and settles for a yellow-bellied account of one moody, not particularly likeable young man's time in the desert. Camp Pendleton, Calif., 1989: The son of a Vietnam vet, Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) begins to question the wisdom of joining the U.S. Marine Corps the day he gets his head smashed into a chalk board by his drill instructor. Like it or not, "Swoff" is well on his way becoming a "jarhead," so named on account of the appearance conferred on recruits' noggins by their high-and-tight marine haircuts and because their craniums are empty vessels into which the corps affectionately referred to as "the Suck" will pour the only things worth knowing. Swoff is no sooner assigned to the 2/7 than he's tapped by no-nonsense Staff Sergeant Siek (Jamie Foxx) to try out for the Surveillance and Target Acquisition Platoon the sniper squad. Swoff passes the grueling training program one unlucky grunt who takes a live round to the skull doesn't and is paired with Corporal Alan Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) in a traditional shooter/spotter team. Trained and armed to the teeth, Swoff and the rest of the 2/7 finally get a chance to exercise their new skills when Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait, and the grunts of the 2/7 are shipped to Saudi Arabia as part of the first wave of Operation Desert Storm. Swoff prepares himself for the mother of all battles, but the weeks stretch into months of waiting. Stuck in the middle of the Saudi desert, heat, boredom and the knowledge that his girlfriend back home is probably cheating slowly begins to chip away at Swoff's sanity, while the moment that will finally define him as a marine his first kill seems increasingly unlikely. Swofford's bestselling memoir was a scathing deconstruction of military machismo and might, but Mendes blows his chance to say anything in particular about either Iraq war or the U.S. military the character of Swoff represents little more than his own irritating solipsism and existential angst. Their depiction of howling marines cheering on Robert DuVall during a screening of APOCALYPSE NOW is chilling, and the sight of burning Kuwaiti oil wells belching out black smoke and raining precious crude upon American heads does is a fairly convincing picture of hell on earth.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: R
- Review: Viewers hoping for a brutal, pitch-black war comedy along the lines of M*A*S*H are in for a major disappointment. English director Sam Mendes (AMERICAN BEAUTY, ROAD TO PERDITION) drains Anthony Swofford's scathing, hilariously profane memoir about his stin… (more)