Mild spoilers present, Hoo-ah!
Most major film critics could not decide whether not they liked this movie or not so it did not gain the buzz that it should have had. So, view this movie knowing if you come out and you don't know if you like it or not, you're not the only one.
Personally, I thought the movie was great. The style that Mendes, director of such films as "American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition", brings to the table is an acute eye for the fine details of a scene, the slow pace of a mundane job and the cruelties of humanity. The source material for this movie is an autobiography of a young marine, who participated in the first gulf war, Anthony Swafford. His insights into life in the corps show the viewers that though the fighting may be over before you know it, the effects of war linger, frighten and change you for better or for worse.
The acting in this film is good, Jamie Foxx, plays a hard nosed Staff sergeant for an elite division of scout snipers. He drives his new recruits to their limit and smiles while doing it. Foxx is a career soldier, which is an excellent foil to Jake Gyllenhaal's weekend warrior character. Gyllenhaal's portrayal of Swofford is excellent. I could believe that he was going insane from the boredom. He goes from bright eyed new recruit, to trained killing machine and finally to resigned veteran. The secondary actors try hard but end up one dimensional. But in a military type movie complex characters are kept to a minimum. So it’s a toss up here: Bad acting lead to bad characters or did bit parts make actors look worse than they are?
The way the film was shot takes on characteristics of past war movies: It has pans and stills of the desert terrain similar to “Lawrence of Arabia”. It has the handheld camera shots like “Saving Private Ryan”. It has the close ups and the contemplative shots that mimic the style of “Platoon”. Mendes doesn’t have the technical prowess of David Lean, the grandiose nature of Steven Spielberg or the first hand experience like Oliver Stone, so paying homage to these past films helps him get through the content.
The movie deserves 8.5 out of ten or 4 stars because it showed what a military career can be without all the bravado, propaganda and glory that they would make you believe. Furthermore, the action was great, the day-to-day parts were interesting, sometimes even funny, and Jake makes his character likeable though he has many problems. The film misses with some cookie cutter characters like Chris Cooper’s overzealous colonel, the bloodthirsty new recruits and the veterans that can do no wrong. Moreover, the scene mimicry does get under your skin if you recognize it. The director should have taken a chance and tried to make it himself.
So enjoy this film wholeheartedly, you will not be disappointed.