8⁄10Stars – Not a John Wayne Movie
10 November 2005 | by trcbmc (United States) – See all my reviews
“Every war is different,” says Anthony Swofford as the movie “Jarhead” comes to a close. “Every war is the same.” Looking back on his experience, he sees that the first Gulf War and the Marine Corps have become ineradicable parts of who he is: “Every jar-head is me.” The screen shimmers and shifts into a scene of a desert patrol dwarfed by distance and hazed by heat waves. “We are still in the desert,” he says. The screen darkens. The credits begin to roll.
A critic once observed that audiences emerge from a comedy talking animatedly with one another, but after a tragedy they come forth subdued and solitary, each absorbed by his or her own thoughts.
“Jarhead” is not a tragedy but a tragic coming-of-age story. As in “The Last Picture Show,” a young man discovers what a cruel, destructive business life can be. Swofford emerges from a war that has consisted of a long, maddening wait followed by a hard march through the surreal aftermath of battles already won by jets dropping smart bombs, toward a horizon blackened by Saddam’s burning oil wells. He returns home to find that his girlfriend has left him for another man. His best friend, who suffered with him through the combat that never came, dies as a civilian, possibly a suicide, as he was thrown out of the Corps with a dishonorable discharge.
Subdued and solitary, I waited outside the theater for my wife.
“So, what did you think?” I asked her when she came out. “Definitely not a John Wayne movie,” she said. “No,” I responded, reminded of Clint Eastwood sharing a victory cigar with a young Marine beneath an American flag raised atop a hill in Grenada in “Heartbreak Ridge.”
“It wasn’t as dark as the book,” I said. “In the book,” she replied, “you couldn’t see Swofford’s smile.”