Maybe you didn’t know this, but there are straight-to-video sequels to JARHEAD, the 2005 Sam Mendes war film based on the memoir by Anthony Swofford. They’re not about Swofford, or other real people. They’re just unrelated fictional stories about Marines in the Middle East. Part 2 I’m afraid was too generic for me to finish, but part 3 has Scott Adkins in it and is directed by William Kaufman, whose HIT LIST is a good high concept DTV Cuba Gooding Jr. thriller and even had some unexpected War On Terror commentary, making him an interesting choice for this.
Well, I’m not sure “interesting” is a word I’d use to describe JARHEAD 3, but it’s not bad. Charlie Weber (CRUEL INTENTIONS 3, VAMPIRES SUCK) plays Albright, a pretty new but promising young Marine assigned to defend a U.S. Embassy. Adkins plays his Gunnery Sergeant Raines, who the men think of as a Buddha of the Marines. We only know this because PR department interviewer Blake (Dante Basco, who I know as one of the stars of FUNK BLAST, a movie ride that once existed at Seattle’s EMP, and you know as Rufio from HOOK, and we all know as Pinball from BLOOD AND BONE) says so. I wish there was more in the movie to back it up.
Adkins doesn’t do any martial arts, he just shoots a few guns, but it’s a much better role than CRIMINAL because at least he gets to be a character. His presence is a highlight despite his occasional attempts to (I think) throw an American southern drawl on the dialogue.
Albright is kind of the Final Girl. He’s more observant than everybody else. He notices a suspicious man filming under the cover of protesters, and later figures out it’s a notorious terrorist named Khaled (Hadrian Howard, bit part in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION), but nobody believes him because that guy’s supposed to be dead. They get mad at Albright for breaking protocol and going straight to Ambassador Cahill (Stephen Hogan) with his theory.
But of course he’s right, and when Khaled leads an attack on the embassy Albright and a small team of Marines try to protect the ambassador until backup (Dennis Haysbert, The Unit) can get there.
The screenplay is by Michael D. Weiss (U.S. SEALS II, HOSTEL PART III) and Chad Law (THE HIT LIST, ONE IN THE CHAMBER, 6 BULLETS, DRIVE HARD, CLOSE RANGE), so it’s people who know how to put together pretty respectable low budget movies. And Kaufman (SINNERS AND SAINTS, ONE IN THE CHAMBER, THE MARINE 4) is a pretty slick director. Compared to the last DTV war movie I saw, SNIPER: SPECIAL OPS, this one feels like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.
I probly don’t need to point this out, but this story is clearly inspired by the real life September 11th, 2012 attack in Benghazi, even using the protest-as-cover detail from initial incorrect reports. But the writers have things turn out differently, and there are two added elements of intrigue:
1) The team courageously leaves the safety of a safe room to try to get an important piece of evidence for stopping future attacks
2) The ambassador was meeting with Jamal (Charlie de Melo), the brother of Khaled, who raises suspicion among at least one of the men but is one of the targets of the attack, so the ambassador insists they protect him
With this serious torn-from-the-headlines type subject they can’t really make it a fun action movie, they can’t get too ridiculous with it. It’s fairly well done shootouts and stuff, but in service of what? Are we supposed to be thrilled by realistic gunfights inspired by the ones that killed real people? If so the ones in Michael Bay’s 13 HOURS are more impressive. Which brings up the matter of taste. Many were uncomfortable with the idea of Bay turning a recent, politically charged tragedy into a Michael Bay movie. Where are we on turning it into a DTV sequel with a happy ending?
In its defense, I think it works harder than any Middle East war movie I’ve seen to show terrorists as a minority in opposition to the regular people. The fictional ambassador, like the real one, is well liked in the community. The Marines work with local soldiers whose leader, Mohammed (Vlado Mihailov, EL GRINGO) likes to say “peace out” and other American slang. Jamal has given up everything to stop Khaled and his perversion of Islam. And it doesn’t even have that HURT LOCKER/AMERICAN SNIPER thing of this lady could be holding a bomb / this guy on the phone could be detonating something / we can’t tell who our enemies are.
And, for what it’s worth, they play a little trick where the one woman character (Sasha Jackson, BLUE CRUSH 2) is a non-combatant who it seems like will be a damsel in distress, but turns out to be crucial to the mission and fittingly capable and tough.
So I think it’s well intentioned.
JARHEAD came out in 2005, when the war in Iraq was still going and even the Persian Gulf War that it depicts had only been in a few movies. Back then I think most artists were sensitive about not wanting an exploration of humanity to be seen as a glorification of war, especially the Iraq War. JARHEAD has a scene where marines watch APOCALYPSE NOW, whooping and cheering and yelling out the dialogue. In the book he says there’s no such thing as an anti-war movie, because anything with war can be enjoyable to these guys.
These days it seems like directors don’t give a shit about that. Now there’s a subgenre of heroic sacrifice movies like LONE SURVIVOR, 13 HOURS and ACT OF VALOR. Any subtleties and ambiguities in their content are arguably ignored by most viewers (see AMERICAN SNIPER). Therefore, this is the 2016 sequel we get to JARHEAD, which was a movie indebted to FULL METAL JACKET and THREE KINGS, and much more a portrait of a person and how he gets through a surreal experience than about military adventure. In my review at the time I wrote that it wasn’t an action movie: “This one is about the lack of action. About being shipped off to the desert and not doing anything, and still going crazy.”
If you just look at JARHEAD 3 as a military movie they made, in the current style, on a DTV budget, and ignore the tackiness of fictionalizing the tragedy in Benghazi, it’s pretty good. But Swofford was the soldier reading Camus on the toilet, and writing a memoir about going to war and not seeing much action. It doesn’t seem right to have to turn off your brain for a movie named after his life story. Maybe they should’ve thought this one through a little more.