If Vietnam, with its baffling, Venus-flytrap landscape, is the perfect dramatic background for an existential drama, the Gulf War would appear to be an ideal setting for an existential comedy: so many servicemen all suited up but with nowhere to go and nothing to do. That’s how David O. Russell’s great 1999 film Three Kings began. It took the hormone-crazed young Americans in the gulf as its starting point and developed a quest story in which the search for illicit riches shifted into a moral imperative to save the lives of a band of nomads on the run from Saddam Hussein.
By contrast, Jarhead, directed by Sam Mendes, has little humor and no dramatic or moral arc. It depicts a generation of young marines who are evidently so stunted by a sexed-up, video-game culture that they’re beyond being educated. They’re frat boys trained to channel insensitivity into violence—and the war is over before they even get to shoot.