2005 Running time: 123 Certificate: 15 Rating: 3

Synopsis

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in Sam Mendes' eye-catching Gulf War drama based on the memoirs of U. S. marine Anthony Swofford. Gyllehaal play Sworrord himself, a 20-year-old, third generation enlistee sent to fight against Saddam's Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. 'Swoff' and his eager comrades are all ready to go out in a blaze of glory... but it's the boredom that's killing them.

Director

  • Sam Mendes

Cast

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

  • Jamie Foxx

  • Peter Sarsgaard

Review

Conceived in 1969 when his father received a two-day leave from his post as a soldier, Anthony Swofford was literally made in Vietnam.

Tony himself joined the Marine Corps at the age of 18 and was sent to the Gulf War two years later, not that he ever dreamt of following in his father's footsteps. Asked why he joined the marines, Swoff gargles: "I got lost on my way to college, Sir!" as his drill sergeant tightens his grip around the recruit's neck.

The first part of the movie, which follows some of Tony's experiences at boot camp, will draw inevitable comparisons with Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam War drama Full Metal Jacket but that's where the similarity ends.

What's surprising is that, despite the army's numerous and obvious technical advances, training methods don't seem to have changed much during the 20 year gap between wars.

A drill sergeant will still spit obscenities your way and call you surprisingly well thought-up names... and he'll still require you to repeat proclamations made famous by Kubrick's epic such as: "This is my rifle, there are many like it, but this one is mine..."

But Swoff would beg for boot camp when he became one of 540,000 troops sent to Saudi Arabia to form Operation Desert Storm and not because the fighting was particularly brutal... quite the opposite.

How the film deals with the fighting is what sets it apart from other war movies and that's because, well, there isn't any.

Warfare had taken a turn for the technological, which meant precision air strikes were the way forward and the guys on the ground didn't get to see much action and they had little clue as to what was going on. For them, the Gulf War consisted of a lot of waiting and hydrating.

We explore the psychological repercussions for these hot, rowdy, horny and increasingly paranoid men - in a strange and baron environment that's relentlessly hostile and thousands of miles from home, told only to protect the oil fields and "maintain a constant state of suspicious alertness", just waiting for news to arrive of girlfriends being unfaithful.

They've been trained to kill and they're just itching to pull that trigger but by the time their 205-day ordeal is over they've never even had reason to fire their weapons.

Mendes has taken everything that was good about American Beauty and Road to Perdition and poured it into this stylish and truthful account of one marine's experience in an Arabian desert in 1990.

The impressive Jake Gyllenhaal acts his pants off as the recruit that's slowly losing his mind and he works well with Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, who's predictably good as the cool but no-nonsense Staff Sergeant Sykes.

Swoff declares in the film's closing statement: "Every war is different, every war is the same." Something similar could be said about war movies... up until now.

Dominic Bloch

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