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Jarhead (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed bySam Mendes
Screenplay byWilliam Broyles Jr.
Based onJarhead
by Anthony Swofford
Produced byDouglas Wick
Lucy Fisher
CinematographyRoger Deakins
Edited byWalter Murch
Music byThomas Newman
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • November 4, 2005 (2005-11-04)
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$72 million[1]
Box office$97.1 million[1]

Jarhead is a 2005 American biographical war drama film based on the 2003 memoir of the same name by Anthony Swofford, chronicling his military service in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Persian Gulf War. Directed by Sam Mendes, the film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Swofford with Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard, Lucas Black, and Chris Cooper.

Universal Pictures released the film November 4, 2005 to mixed reviews and a disappointing box office, grossing $97 million against a $72 million budget. Named for the military slang among U.S. Marines, the film eventually spawned a direct-to-video series of three subsequent films.


In 1989, Anthony "Swoff" Swofford, whose father served in the earlier Vietnam War (1955–1975), attends United States Marine Corps recruit training before being stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. Claiming that he joined the military because he "got lost on the way to college", Swofford finds his time at Camp Pendleton difficult and struggles to make friends. Although Swofford feigns illness to avoid his responsibilities, a "lifer", Staff Sergeant Sykes, takes note of his potential and offers Swofford an opportunity to attend his competitive Scout Sniper course.

After grueling training, eight Marines graduate: among them Swofford, now a sniper, and Swofford's roommate Corporal Alan Troy who becomes his spotter. When Kuwait is invaded by Iraq, Swofford's unit is deployed to the Arabian Peninsula as a part of "Operation Desert Shield" in the Gulf War (1990–1991). Eager for combat, the Marines find themselves bored with their remedial training, constant drills, and routine responsibilities. The monotony prompts many to talk about the unfaithful girlfriends and wives waiting for them at home. They even erect a bulletin board featuring annotated photographs revealing what perfidies the women had committed (known in military slang as a "Jodie Wall").

Swofford obtains unauthorized alcohol and organizes an impromptu Christmas party, arranging for Fergus to cover his watch so he can celebrate. Fergus accidentally sets fire to a tent while cooking some sausages and ignites a crate of flares, waking the whole camp and enraging Staff Sergeant Sykes. Afterwards, rather than assign blame to Fergus, Swofford accepts full responsibility for the incident. Consequently, Swofford is demoted from lance corporal to private and receives "shit-burning" detail. The punishments, combined with the heat, the boredom, and Swofford's suspicions of his girlfriend's infidelity, give Swofford a mental breakdown, to the point where he threatens Fergus with a rifle and then demands that Fergus shoot him.

Later, Operation Desert Storm begins and the Marines are sent to the Kuwait–Saudi Arabia border. Swofford learns from Sykes that Troy concealed his criminal record when enlisting and will be discharged when the unit returns home. Troy becomes distant from his friends. Knowing that Troy will not be allowed to reenlist, the Marines attack him with a red-hot USMC branding iron, marking him as one of their own. Following an accidental air attack from friendly forces, the Marines advance through the desert, facing no enemies on the ground. The Marines march through the infamous "Highway of Death" (on the northbound road leading back to Iraq from capital Kuwait City), strewn with the burnt vehicles and charred bodies of retreating Iraqi soldiers, the aftermath of a bombing campaign. The Marines later catch sight of distant burning Kuwaiti oil wells, ignited only moments before by retreating Iraqis, and they attempt to dig sleeping holes as a rain of crude oil falls from the sky. Before they can finish, Sykes orders the squad to move upwind.

Near the end of the war, Swofford and Troy are finally given a sniping mission. Lieutenant Colonel Kazinski, their battalion commander, orders them to kill at least one of two high-ranking Iraqi Republican Guard officers at a nearby airfield. At the last second before Swofford takes the shot, Major Lincoln interrupts them to call in an air strike. Troy desperately pleads to make a kill, but is denied and overruled as the airplanes destroy the Iraqi airfield, much to his and Swofford's disappointment. The war ends without Swofford ever firing his rifle. During a monologue, Swofford realizes that all of his training and effort to achieve the elite status as a marine sniper is meaningless in modern warfare.

The Marines return home on a transport bus which is boarded by an inebriated Vietnam-era Marine who congratulates them, to their obvious discomfort. They later parade through a town in a jovial celebration of victory. Swofford returns home to his family and girlfriend but discovers she has a new boyfriend. Fowler is seen with a prostitute in a bar, now as a Corporal, Kruger in a corporate boardroom, Escobar as a supermarket employee, Cortez as a father of three children, and Sykes continuing his service as a first sergeant in the Iraq War. Later, Swofford learns of Troy's death during a surprise visit from Fergus. At Troy's funeral, they reunite with former comrades.


Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of 60% based on 199 reviews, with an average rating of 6.4/10. The site's consensus states: "This first-person account of the first Gulf War scores with its performances and cinematography but lacks an emotional thrust."[3] Roger Ebert gave the movie three-and-a-half out of four stars, crediting it for its unique portrayal of Gulf War Marines who battled boredom and a sense of isolation rather than enemy combatants.[4] Entertainment Weekly magazine gave the film a "B+" rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote:

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]

In his review for the Washington Post, Stephen Hunter praised Jake Gyllenhaal's performance: "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 through which other young men can be observed".[6] Sight and Sound magazine's Leslie Felperin wrote, "If nothing else, Jarhead provides some kind of reportage of a war whose consequences we haven't yet begun to understand, a war now elbowed into history by its still-raging sequel".[7] USA Today gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, "What we're left with is solid if not exceptional, though it's good to see Mendes expanding as a filmmaker".[8] TIME magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "But the best war movies—and this one, despite its being overlong and repetitive, is among them—hold that men fight (or in this case, are ready to fight) not for causes, but to survive and to help their comrades do the same".[9]

However, in his review for The New York Times, A. O. Scott felt that the film was "full of intensity with almost no real visceral impact", and called it "a minor movie about a minor war, and a film that feels, at the moment, remarkably irrelevant".[10] Kenneth Turan in his review for the Los Angeles Times wrote:

Its polished surfaces and professional style can't compete with the gritty reality conveyed by documentaries like Gunner Palace and Occupation: Dreamland — or, for that matter, by the surreal black comedy of David O. Russell's Three Kings — that show in no uncertain terms what it's like to be a soldier in Iraq.[11]

In his review for the Village Voice, J. Hoberman wrote, "A master of the monotone, Mendes prompts his performers to hit a note and sustain it. Although Jarhead is more visually accomplished and less empty than American Beauty or Road to Perdition, it still feels oppressively hermetic".[12]

Nathaniel Fick, another author who is a Marine, gave the film a mixed review (and panned the book on which it is based) in Slate. He wrote, "Jarhead also presents wild scenes that probably could happen in combat units, but strips them of the context that might explain how they're more than sheer lunacy".[13] James Meek, who reported from the battlefields of Iraq, wrote in The Guardian: "The key to a film about war is how it ends, and if the young man at the film's centre is lifted out of the battlefield uninjured and sane, if his family and home life before and after aren't prominent in the picture, the movie is diminished as a film which says something about war and becomes a simpler story of growing up, of jeopardy overcome".[14]


In a November 2005 New York Times article, David Carr noted that war veteran and writer Joel Turnipseed felt that parts of the film's plot had been taken from his 2002 book Baghdad Express: A Gulf War Memoir without his consent. Jarhead screenwriter William Broyles Jr. claimed that many similarities arise from the retelling of common Marine experiences.[15]


Year Ceremony Category Recipients Result
2005 10th Satellite Awards[16] Best Actor - Drama Jake Gyllenhaal Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Drama Peter Sarsgaard Nominated
Best Screenplay – Adapted William Broyles Jr. Nominated
Best Film Editing Walter Murch Nominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards 2005[17] Best Supporting Actor Peter Sarsgaard Nominated


The film was followed by three direct-to-video sequels: Jarhead 2: Field of Fire (2014), Jarhead 3: The Siege (2016) and Jarhead: Law of Return (2019). Unlike the original, all three sequels are entirely fictional. They do not have connection to the original.[18]


  1. ^ a b "Jarhead (2005)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  2. ^ "Jarhead". EW.com. August 12, 2005.
  3. ^ "Jarhead". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved April 8, 2024.
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 3, 2005). "The hurry-up-and-wait of war". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved May 29, 2009.
  5. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (November 2, 2005). "Jarhead". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved May 29, 2009.
  6. ^ Hunter, Stephen (November 4, 2005). "'Jarhead': A Platoon Full of Sand And Grit". Washington Post. Retrieved May 29, 2009.
  7. ^ Felperin, Leslie (January 2006). "The Longest Days". Sight and Sound. Archived from the original on April 11, 2009. Retrieved May 29, 2009.
  8. ^ Clark, Mike (November 4, 2005). "A few good men give 'Jarhead' a solid feel". USA Today. Archived from the original on November 6, 2005. Retrieved May 29, 2009.
  9. ^ Schickel, Richard (November 2, 2005). "In the Eye of Desert Storm". Time. Archived from the original on November 6, 2005. Retrieved May 29, 2009.
  10. ^ Scott, A.O. (November 4, 2005). "Soldiers in the Desert, Antsy and Apolitical". The New York Times. Retrieved May 29, 2009.
  11. ^ Turan, Kenneth (November 4, 2005). "Lost command". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 7, 2023.
  12. ^ Hoberman, J. (October 25, 2005). "Weathering the Storm". Village Voice. Retrieved May 29, 2009.
  13. ^ Fick, Nathaniel (November 9, 2005). "How Accurate Is Jarhead?". Slate. Retrieved October 28, 2012.
  14. ^ Meek, James (December 16, 2005). "Visions of hell". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 29, 2009.
  15. ^ Carr, David (November 9, 2005). "Jarhead: Whose Stories Are They?". The New York Times. Retrieved May 5, 2010.
  16. ^ "10th Satellite Awards". Press Academy. Archived from the original on February 2, 2008. Retrieved November 7, 2023.
  17. ^ "2005 WAFCA Awards". wafca.com. Retrieved November 7, 2023.
  18. ^ "A Look at the Jarhead Series (2005-2019)". The Action Elite. November 12, 2019. Retrieved September 29, 2020.

External links[edit]