A little while ago on this very blog, there was a bit of a dustup over whether Jarhead was sufficiently moralistic in its treatment of the Gulf War, particularly in terms of whether or not it said enough about the relationship between that conflict and our current Middle East imbroglio. In one corner:
"What we have, then, is a film made during one of the most needless and tragic conflicts in our history about the genesis of that conflict that refuses toacknowledgee that there is anything right or wrong. I'd be much happier with a film that somehow adapted the novel into a pro-war story than with one that so irresponsibly thinks that it is okay to use the Gulf War as a setting for pure entertainment."
And in the other:
"[F]ilms approached as deliberately political tend to wind up more as cheerleading for a particular ideology than meaningful storytelling. If the filmmakers believe the war is wrong (as I think they all did in this case), that's going to come across even if they're trying to keep politics out of it.And so it did, and the film derives its effectiveness from that subtlety."
Now I get to add a third opinion: gee willickers, Roger Deakins sure is a great cinematographer!

I shall expand on that: in order for Jarhead to say something about Operation Enduring Qugmire Freedom, it has to say something about Desert Shield/Storm. And to say something about Desert Storm, it would have to say something about war in general. And to say something about war in general, it would have to have themes. But this is a Sam Mendes film! We'll have none of that "theme" business here, sir! It might get in the way of the fancy camerawork!

Yes, once again, the man behind American Beauty and Road to Perdition has cranked out a work of sublime technique (Deakins behind the camera, Walter Murch in the editing room, and a raft of great performances, on the subject of which when the fuck is Jake Gyllenhaal going to become a movie star?) without even a trace of substance behind it. I'm beginning to think he deliberately looks for bad screenplays, so he doesn't have to worry about dialogue upstaging his marvelous compositions.

Sure, it's disappointing that the film doesn't make more of a stand on the War Against Mid-East Secularists, but I can forgive it; it's the story of soldiers as a class, and uses the 1991 war as a prism for that. Far worse is that I Just! Don't! Give! A! Damn! about Anthony Swofford's 150+ days of waiting in the desert. It tells me nothing about the mind of a Marine. Only that there's apparently a lot of HoYay! in the Corps.

There's one really interesting scene: soon after Swofford completes training, he and a bunch of other Marines gather to watch Apocalypse Now. They get to the "Ride of the Valkyries" helicopter sequence, and start to cheer for the destruction of that village. We all know that Francis Ford Coppola was a pacifist, and that sequence was meant to showcase the grotesque excess of the overblown fantasies enacted by the officers in Vietnam; but to these young men, it's just rousing. Thereby confirming the observation that no film can be anti-war, because on some level any film showing battle makes it look exciting. In this sense, Jarhead is the perfect anti-war film. Because it just makes the whole thing really fucking boring.