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. 67
    This is a war film with precious little war, which was also the crux of Swofford's book.
  2. 58
    Caught up in its own macho symbolism, Jarhead fights a losing battle to show the human cost of warfare.
  3. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    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.
  4. It's a unique vision of war from the point of view of a Marine who never pulled a trigger against a foe.
  5. Jarhead virtually begins with a rip-off of the basic-training sequence that opens Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket."
  6. 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.
  7. Inner dialogue is a hard sell on screen.
  8. 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.
  9. It may feel familiar, but it's a bleak and profound piece of work.
  10. Reviewed by: Colin Kennedy
    While not quite the war movie that many of us were hoping to see right now, Mendes’ dispassionate take on the first Gulf War has many merits, and it does bring vividly to life the peculiar dilemma of the modern soldier.
  11. 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.
  12. 70
    Jarhead does feature stunning visuals. Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins have created some fantastic imagery.
  13. 50
    Curiously, Jarhead transforms Swofford himself (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) from the book’s duty-bound youth, desperate to live up to his father's military legacy, into an enigmatic voyeur whose feelings and motivations are rarely made clear.
  14. As much as we intellectually admire Jarhead, it's a cold film that only sporadically makes the kind of emotional connection it's after.
  15. 50
    After an hour of being stranded among these restless soldiers and their increasingly aggressive locker-room antics, you, too, will be longing for combat -- for anything -- to happen.
  16. The movie has some of the washed-out look of David O. Russell's excellent "Three Kings," but none of the edge. That's part of the point - that nothing leads to anything, at least not in this particular war.
  17. As a result, Jarhead is utterly predictable (boys endure tough training; boys encounter another culture and are baffled), studded with first-rate performances.
  18. Reviewed by: Kyle Smith
    Marines did not play football in full anti-chemical suits in 112-degree weather; men would have been collapsing and perhaps dying because it was so hard to breathe in the gas masks. Do I quibble over details? Details are all the movie offers. There isn't a story.
  19. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    It's an expertly made film that, scene by scene, holds your attention. But both emotionally and intellectually, it doesn't add up.
  20. They're all dressed up to kill, with no place to go.
  21. 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.
  22. Reviewed by: Glenn Kenny
    That Jarhead is an impressive technical achievement is a given, but ultimately this picture is the last thing any war movie should be: innocuous.
  23. 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.
  24. 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.
  25. 50
    Mendes doesn't care about people -- he's too busy making his art. And with Jarhead he pulls off, effortlessly, what so many pro-and antiwar individuals since Vietnam have tried so conscientiously to avoid: His movie is antiwar and anti-soldier.
  26. A harsh and thoroughly unromantic examination of the scarring effects of war.
  27. 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.
  28. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    "Three Kings" is fictional, obviously, and Mendes and Broyles were bound by the facts of Swofford's life. But the violence in "Three Kings" was visceral, whereas Jarhead's never penetrates the blood-brain barrier. It's locked away in its narrator's jarhead.
  29. 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.
  30. 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.
  31. Jarhead refuses to engage in its own point of view toward events it depicts. So the film feels empty and tentative, uncertain of what if anything these events add up to.
  32. The daring achievement of Jarhead is that it is not a film about war, about combat: it is about being a soldier.
  33. Mr. Swofford's book has earned a place alongside the classics of military literature, but Mr. Mendes's film is more like a footnote - a minor movie about a minor war, and a film that feels, at the moment, remarkably irrelevant.
  34. 50
    Has an oddly amorphous and inconclusive feeling to it. We never do find out who Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal) is, and his best friend, Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), who shifts back and forth between sanity and hysteria, is a mystery, too.
  35. Reviewed by: Ken Fox
    Viewers hoping for a brutal, pitch-black war comedy along the lines of M*A*S*H are in for a major disappointment.
  36. Reviewed by: Mike Clark
    What we're left with is solid if not exceptional, though it's good to see Mendes expanding as a filmmaker.
  37. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Part absurdist drama, part personal observational commentary and part hormonal explosion, all seen through the filter of previous war pics, Sam Mendes' third feature has numerous arresting moments but never achieves a confident, consistent or sufficiently audacious tone.
  38. 50
    One of the few Hollywood movies to ever acknowledge the Desert Storm "experience," Sam Mendes's Jarhead is both fastidiously grueling and perversely withholding.
  39. An exercise in inertia about an exercise in futility.
  40. What's so good about the movie is Gyllenhaal's refusal to show off; he doesn't seem jealous of the camera's attention when it goes to others and is content, for long stretches, to serve simply as a prism though which other young men can be observed.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 204 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 76 out of 102
  2. Negative: 21 out of 102
  1. JamesM.
    Nov 6, 2005
    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. Apr 25, 2015
    "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 here…) 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 »
  3. Aug 13, 2014
    Say what you want about this movie, but I liked Jarhead. Yes, it doesn't live up to its full potential of being the psycho-analysis of DesertSay what you want about this movie, but I liked Jarhead. Yes, it doesn't live up to its full potential of being the psycho-analysis of Desert Storm Marines that it wanted to be, but it kept me entertained. It has good acting, a stronger-than-I-expected-script, and lots of funny moments to bring levity to the situation at hand; that's all I wanted. Full Review »