JARHEAD - a new movie about the US experience in the first Gulf War - is not the profound indictment of war and US foreign policy that Sam Mendes, the director, no doubt intended. Mendes specialises in over-hyped, well-shot, but emotionally sterile, pretentious wank-fests. American Beauty is one of the most over-hyped movies in recent memory and I still haven't forgiven the Academy for heaping it with Oscars, disregarding far better movies such as Election, The Insider, Topsy-Turvy, Being John Malkovich, The End of the Affair and The Sweet and Lowdown. What's worse, Sam Mendes has no cinematic humility: at several points in JARHEAD he shows the troops enjoying war movie classics such as The Deer Hunter, and Apocalypse Now. The glimpses of better movies only heighten our belief that JARHEAD is rather mediocre fair. The reason why I love movies like Apocalypse Now is that they straddle the fine line between condemning war for its futility and stupidity while at the same time indulging in the pornography of war. Yes, yes, we share Martin Sheen's "horror" at Vietnam, but at the same time, what we love is the US choppers coming in to napalm the Vietnamese village, with The Ride of the Valkyries blaring from the speakers. We love Col. Kilgore's cheesy speeches about napalm and surfing.
Which is all a long-winded way of coming to my point. Sam Mendes has failed completely in straddling the fine line between condemnation and pornography. Every part of the film that tries to make a larger political point suffocates in a sea of piety and banality. The first five minutes and the final fifteen minutes of JARHEAD are some of the most ridiculous in cinema: platitutudes passed off as wisdom. Similarly, in the middle of a film we have a segment that should that shock the viewer, but because of the tone of the preceeding fifty minutes, completely fails to make an impact. Where Mendes succeeds is in the pornography of war - and to that end, he has made a movie that is not so much a liberal critique as a boon for the war buffs. With his combination of superb photography and gallows humour, he has created a glamourous, often-times hysterical, war movie. This is helped by superb cameos by Chris Cooper and Dennis Haysbert (President Palmer in 24). The dialogue is witty, the characters larger-than-life, the vintage rap music well-chosen. To sum it up, if you go see this movie, and there is no reason why you should not, you will remember it not for the scenes of dead Iraqis, but for Jake Gyllenhaal shaking his ass in a Santa* G-string. I bet the Republicans are shaking in their boots after *that* savage indictment.
JARHEAD is on global release. *Which makes me wonder if this movie is a second-order victim of Bina007's first law of movies.