DVD Review: Jarhead

Jarhead is offensive. Within about 30 seconds of the actors popping on the screen, it has the R rating secured. Unlike so many other movies though, Jarhead has a purpose to its gratuitous sex and language. It's part of the harsh reality the soldiers are stuck inside, slowly taking a turn for the worse as the first Gulf War continues on without them.

In that R rating, you won't see violence listed. While there is death, Jarhead is a war movie without war. Jake Gyllenhaal leads an unbelievable cast as a young soldier mentally demolished by military desensitization. His sanity is the focus, not the bombs dropping around him or the oil burning behind him. His performance carries the movie in a gripping and believable manner, while supporting roles from Jamie Foxx and Peter Sarsgaard add to the story.

Director Sam Mendes doesn't direct many movies, but every project he takes is a smart one. From the Academy Award winning American Beauty to Tom Hank's drama Road to Perdition, he knows what should be put on film. Jarhead is beautiful in how its shot, and ugly in what it depicts. Its images are unforgettable, and burned into the mind of anyone who watches it. It also features the best kind of special effects: the ones you don't even know are there.

It may take a more conditioned audience time to accept where this film is going. Without a body count or soldiers constantly firing rifles, you'll likely question if there's a point for the first hour. The marketing indicted this was something else entirely.

Jarhead has the moment where things rapidly swing around for dramatic effect. However, it's too sharp of a turn. The build up towards a near-friendly fire incident is there, just not as gradual as it should have been. As such, Gyllenhaal's character comes off differently than he should. The same can be said for a lot of the troops whose actions are simply disgusting and hard to buy into.

There's also an extended segment of interviews with a reporter. Here's where the film becomes more than a movie. Based on the strengths of the performances, you cannot tell these are actors. That's what makes Jarhead different, making TV interviews into a critical plot point and finely acted cinema. Nearly every minute of Jarhead is that incredible, and it deserves to be watched by anyone of appropriate age. (**** out of *****)

Jarhead is a unique challenge for DVD. The color filters used are all over the place, from a contrasting, blinding sheen to black levels that fall into the purple range. It's hard to even put into words, but the disc handles this admirably. It's main problems come from compression in some late scenes involving the burning oil and a bright orange sky. These are a mess with every block of compression visible and jumping around to the moving light. It's technically perfect beyond that, but it's hard to tell with the extreme color and purposeful grain. (****)

For a few moments, Jarhead does have a chance to prove its worth in the audio department. A few fine explosions are enough to give the subwoofer wall-shaking work, and minor surround speaker action is used where needed. This is an especially strong disc in the two front stereo channels. (****)

Aside from commentaries, all of the extras are deleted scenes presented in different ways. A string of fantasy segments runs about 6:00. The commentary does a fascinating job of how wrong these went, even though they should have worked given how they were written. However, after the first one failed to work as planned, all of them needed to be cut. It was a wise move, and both Mendes and his editor Walter Murch know this.

The deleted sections of the interviews mentioned above are here in full, running about 16-minutes in total. Commentary is again provided, and these clips are another way to point out how fine these performances are. A separate portion of the disc offers 11 deleted scenes, but most of these are extended (and barely at that).

Finally, two separate commentary tracks run with the film. One oddly features Mendes alone without his editor (even though he provided commentary for every other feature). However, the track to listen to involves the rare combo of film writer William Broyles and the author of the book the movie is based off of, Anthony Swafford. Changes are obviously a focal point from one medium to the other, and it's wonderful to listen to them explain why things were done the way they were. (***)

If you're wondering if you squeeze Jarhead by, say, a 14-year old, think again. Unless he or she is really ready for some shocking material, the word "fuck" is spoken 278 times in less than a two-hour movie. Worse yet, that's not even the worst thing this does to earn the rating it did. It's not a complaint against the film, just a warning to be ready for what you could be watching.

Comments (1)

If you're wondering if you squeeze Jarhead by, say, a 14-year old, think again. Unless he or she is really ready for some shocking material, the word "fuck" is spoken 278 times in less than a two-hour movie.

Haha silly Americans thinking the number of times a foul word is said makes it unfit for children. Why is 1 "fuck" ok for the PG-13 crowd, but not 2? What difference does 2 fucks make? I'm not ragging on you, I'm just kind of curious.

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