Jarhead (rated R) follows a group of Marines from boot camp to Operation Desert Storm, where they are supposedly traumatized for life, even though they never go into combat. The book the movie is based on, a memoir by Anthony Swofford, is labeled nonfiction. If this portrait of Marine life is factual, it still distorts the truth with what it leaves out. Jarhead drains the military life of any kind of honor, patriotism, faith, and virtue-leaving only bad language, filthy minds, and brutal behavior.
The movie is sympathetic to these young Marines only if you are a pacifist: Here are these wonderful young men. Look at how the military brutalizes them. See how they lose their innocence as the institution turns them into killing machines.
Central character Tony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) trains to be a sniper. He and his buddies, excited at the prospect of war, go to the hot, empty desert only to hurry up and wait for months. The tension builds and they crack. Why? "You just haven't got to kill anything yet." Aircraft win the war-the Marines do see the carnage on "the highway of death"-but they go home to a hero's welcome without ever having fired their rifles at an enemy.
Today's Iraq war is completely different. Yet the movie ridicules the fear of WMD, claims we are just in it for the oil, and claims the United States kept Saddam in power.
What about the TV spots showing our fresh-faced soldiers saying how glad they are to be serving their country, giving shy greetings to their loved ones back home? Staged, according to this movie, scripted by a threatening sergeant.
Critics like this movie. But real jarheads will not.