"Every war is different, every war is the same" says Swoff, the lead character in Sam Mendes' third feature film, Jarhead. Well, the Gulf War was actually quite different, at least compared to the United States' previous outing in the world of wars, Vietnam. Basically, it was a war fought almost entirely from the air. And that is why the story of the US marines we encounter in this film is a bit different from most war movies. They don't actually fight, but they still see the terrors of war, and - perhaps more importantly - the terror of the modern military.
The characters are strong and diverse, something that vouches for the success novel by the real Anthony Swofford on which the film is based. But it's also quite likely that the descriptive, somewhat introverted report of the conditions of pre-war American troops in Kuwait has more edge in writing than on screen. Because although Sam Mendes directs with good command and presents his marines in the usual charming/intriguing way that they often are presented in soldier-buddy-movies, Jarhead is ultimately a quite inert film, wanting to be neutral when it comes to message and political affiliation, but at the same time drenched in well-worn voiceover narrative.
Despite quite graphic images of the destructions of war, Jarhead rarely clenches your spine. It's not a particularly difficult movie to watch, and it is rarely emotionally challenging. Maybe it's because the film is too middle of the road from an artistic point of view, or maybe it's because what these people experience diminishes compared to so many other accounts of war. In any respect, the film remains a good, solid look at US marines in training and preparations for war. It is however, rarely challenging neither thematically nor intellectually. Like its protagonists, it's got simply too little attitude.