Metascore
58

Mixed or average reviews - based on 40 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 20 out of 40
  2. Negative: 2 out of 40
Watch On
  1. 88
    It is not often that a movie catches exactly what it was like to be this person in this place at this time, but Jarhead does.
  2. 88
    Jarhead is about how the experience of being in the military fundamentally changes an individual. In this case, the focus isn't about the madness of slaughter in the jungle, but the madness of inaction in the desert.
  3. 75
    Even when the script slips into sermonizing -- a Swoff voice-over informs us that we're all still "in the desert" -- Mendes keeps invading us with emotions. The jolt of Jarhead is undeniable, and it comes when you least expect it.
  4. Jarhead isn't overtly political, yet by evoking the almost surreal futility of men whose lust for victory through action is dashed, at every turn, by the tactics, terrain, and morality of the war they're in, it sets up a powerfully resonant echo of the one we're in today.
  5. A harsh and thoroughly unromantic examination of the scarring effects of war.
  6. Despite all the heavy artistic artillery Mendes has brought to bear, his movie isn't all that far removed conceptually from "Top Gun" - which was also about military men itching for a chance to rock 'n' roll. The only difference is, "Top Gun" was unabashedly a popcorn movie while Jarhead is a box of unpopped kernels passing itself off as a full meal.
  7. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    63
    All writers are entitled to tell the story of their own war, whether it's on the battlefield, in their head, or -- as is usually the case -- somewhere in between. Like it or not, Anthony Swofford did just that. Mendes, by contrast, tells the story of a Hollywood war, and it's simply not the news we can use.
  8. They're all dressed up to kill, with no place to go.
  9. 67
    This is a war film with precious little war, which was also the crux of Swofford's book.
  10. Reviewed by: Ken Fox
    63
    Viewers hoping for a brutal, pitch-black war comedy along the lines of M*A*S*H are in for a major disappointment.
  11. 70
    Screenwriter William Broyles, Jr., a former Vietnam pilot and "Newsweek" editor, connects reasonably well with the material, but "American Beauty" director Sam Mendes has a tendency to smooth out the rough edges, and the film goes flat as month-old soda.
  12. It's a unique vision of war from the point of view of a Marine who never pulled a trigger against a foe.
  13. The result is a war picture that, trying to pass off fidelity to the book as objectivity, sacrifices any voice of its own, and ends up not knowing what to think.
  14. 75
    The result is typical Mendes: accomplished, calculated and uncommitted. Maybe it's because his talent comes to him too easily, but I've yet to sense his heart and soul in a film.
  15. The sum of the movie is devastating. One takes out of it a sense that the human cost of our endless adventure in Iraq is going to be incalculable, perhaps catastrophic -- a psychological time bomb that will be exploding for decades to come.
  16. Reviewed by: Mike Clark
    75
    What we're left with is solid if not exceptional, though it's good to see Mendes expanding as a filmmaker.
  17. The daring achievement of Jarhead is that it is not a film about war, about combat: it is about being a soldier.
  18. It may feel familiar, but it's a bleak and profound piece of work.
  19. 70
    Jarhead does feature stunning visuals. Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins have created some fantastic imagery.
  20. Inner dialogue is a hard sell on screen.
User Score
7.1

Generally favorable reviews- based on 205 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 77 out of 103
  2. Negative: 21 out of 103
  1. JamesM.
    Nov 6, 2005
    10
    I am surprised that this didn't recieve a better score than it did. A huge majority of the reviews that I've read say how I am surprised that this didn't recieve a better score than it did. A huge majority of the reviews that I've read say how 'terrible' the film is because it has no huge forward motion into action or anything. But, excuse me, but Isn't that the whole idea? I'm sorry, but I loved the fact that this was an actionless war film. Not all war veterns see action all the time like in some other war films, so it's a relief to see some change in the genre. I recommend this movie to anyone who doesnt have a problem with a near actionless story. If you come in to this film looking for a good action film, you're going to be bored. If you go in to it looking for a character driven story, then you'll enjoy it. Full Review »
  2. Jun 5, 2015
    8
    Though decidedly bloated and slightly uneventful, Sam Mendes' "Jarhead" benefits from a fantastic set of performances and some unsurprisinglyThough decidedly bloated and slightly uneventful, Sam Mendes' "Jarhead" benefits from a fantastic set of performances and some unsurprisingly immaculate imagery from Roger Deakins. Full Review »
  3. Apr 25, 2015
    8
    "Every war is different. Every war is the same." So says the voiceover narration in the closing moments of Sam Mendes' Jarhead. I might add:"Every war is different. Every war is the same." So says the voiceover narration in the closing moments of Sam Mendes' Jarhead. I might add: Every war movie is different. Every war movie is the same. This is Mendes' Gulf War answer to Apocalypse Now - he announces as much by connecting the two in an early scene showing marines whipped into a frenzy while watching the helicopter attack sequence from Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film. Jarhead is about how the experience of being in the military fundamentally changes an individual. In this case, the focus isn't about the madness of slaughter in the jungle, but the madness of inaction in the desert.

    For those who don't remember the Gulf War (or who weren't old enough to watch in unfold in real time on television), here's a brief recap. The conflict started in August 1990, when Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, igniting worldwide protests. As diplomatic negotiations stagnated, United Nations troops (primarily from the United States) massed in Saudi Arabia. By mid-January 1991, more than 500,000 U.S. men and women were in the Middle East, and "Operation Desert Shield" became "Operation Desert Storm." More than a month of brutal pounding from the air decimated the Iraqi forces. The ground war, launched on February 23, lasted only four days (or, to be precise: four days, four hours, one minute). A ceasefire was called on February 27, and Iraq accepted terms on March 3.

    Jarhead shows these events not from the perspective of a civilian, war correspondent, or diplomat, but from that of a jarhead (jargon for marine) sniper who was supposed to be on the front line of the ground conflict - except there was no front line. The air attack so devastated the Iraqi army that no one was left to wage an effective battle. So when the marines went in, they were left with mop-up duty. Many of these men, despite being trained as killing machines, left without firing a shot. (As one puts it: "Are we ever going to get to kill anyone?") Based on the memoirs of Anthony Swofford, Jarhead takes viewers into the barracks and tents of a group of marines who view the conflict as a phantom war - a tease that never offers release.

    Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) invests a great deal of energy into developing the battleground as an alien environment. Using the sands of Mexico as a stand-in, Jarhead shows how different desert warfare is from conventional conflict. We see men training while wearing bulky anti-contamination suits in 100+ degree heat. Water must be downed in such quantities that vomiting sometimes occurs. Finding ways to blow off steam leads to risky behavior, the punishment for which can be the dreaded latrine duty. (If you thought it was bad in Platoon, wait until you see it hereā€¦) The Kuwaiti desert comes alive in this film, forming its own supporting character. There are some wonderful twilight and nighttime shots that appear almost to have taken place on a different planet. Cinematographer Roger Deakins uses handheld cameras effectively (but not to motion sickness inducing excess). And, to strengthen the connection to Apocalypse Now, Mendes has employed Walter Murch, who edited the earlier film.

    It's unsurprising that Jarhead attains an impressive level of verisimilitude. Although The USMC did not officially participate in the filming, Mendes hired an army of ex-marine advisors who kept things real and avoided caricatures. This is not a strongly political or anti-war film (certainly compared to pictures like Apocalypse Now or Platoon). It's about the characters and how they react to their circumstances. They see things within the microcosm of their tents. What "it all means," whether the attack is justified, and whether the troops should have pushed all the way to Baghdad are questions for other movies with other agendas.

    Like many war movies, Jarhead comes complete with a voiceover narrative. Despite my general disapproval of this as a cinematic device (it's too often used as a crutch), it succeeds for the most part. This is, after all, a memoir, and there are times when it's helpful to provide viewers with information in a short-hand manner that would be cumbersome to present in a traditional way. Apparently, Mendes worked long and hard on the voiceovers - they are not distractions and they do not pull the viewer "out of the moment."

    Jarhead is compelling in the way it presents a new facet of a genre that some would argue was mined out long ago. Yet, as much as the film contains the familiar elements of war movies, the thrust is different.Portraying these personality transformations is where Jarhead excels, and the reason why this isn't just another of the growing number of dramas about the Gulf War.
    Full Review »