"Welcome to the suck" is the motto, repeatedly delivered by sniper Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), that summarizes the experience of the Marines in the first Gulf War, at least as far as Jarhead portrays the experience. In director Sam Mendes' (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) new film, Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) joins the Marines in 1989 and gets shipped off to Saudi Arabia to fight Saddam Hussein's army; disappointingly (for them), combat is always on the horizon but never within reach. The film, adapted from Swofford's memoir of the same name, focuses more on the psychological impact of war, and preparations for war, than the physical impact. In Jarhead, the Marines endure far more stress to their minds than to their bodies.
Similar to Full Metal Jacket, Jarhead is not a typical studio war movie. In the place of an easy-to-follow plotline is an almost documentary-like collection of experiences that captures the essence of the war itself, noting that the first Iraq War consisted of minimal activity for the soldiers on the ground. The film does not suffer from a lack of drama, however. The characters, all well-portrayed, and scenes are sufficiently complex and suspenseful to make this film quite entertaining; even the slower parts are enjoyable with cool visuals and an appropriate soundtrack. Jarhead does not strive to encourage future Marines but it does reveal a unique and interesting depiction of Operation Desert Storm.