Lucas Black

J is for Jarhead (2005)

True story about US marine sniper Anthony Swofford’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) experience in the Gulf War. As he and his unit are stationed in the Persian Gulf for months on end with little chance of seeing any action, he struggles with thoughts that his girlfriend back home is cheating on him and his mental state deteriorates.

Jake Gyllenhaal is a fantastic lead and Swofford is a compelling character that your eyes are drawn to whenever he’s on screen. The moments of intensity when he loses it are as scary as the dead look in his eyes when his superior Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx) is reprimanding him. The supporting cast are great too which include Peter Sarsgaard as Swofford’s spotter and Lucas Black as a marine who criticises the politics of the conflict and the often-faulty equipment they are given.

Seeing how Swofford and the others cope, or don’t, with the monotony of waiting in a desert for something to do and how their idea of war is vastly different to the reality, is interesting. Especially as even if you see no or little action, your mind and body are still almost constantly focussed in order to react at any second if needed.

That being said, it’s difficult to figure out what this film is trying to say and who you’re supposed to be sympathising with. So many of the men are eager to kill an unknown enemy and are desperate to see action. It’s a bloodlust that’s uncomfortable to watch but when you see the environment that that attitude is bred in it’s hard to see how anyone wouldn’t go almost feral. The arduous bootcamp, where superior officers belittle, abuse and yell at the soldiers, forces the men to develop thick skin and a whole other way at looking at the world.

It’s understandable that those on the frontline need to be tough and capable, but to the extents that the men are pushed to are debatable. Plus, it’s like those in charge whose rhetoric is treated as gospel don’t learn that their actions have consequences, and superior officers are almost surprised when their men act out due to boredom or depravity.

No soldier deserves the abuse they receive by their superior officers or their fellow soldiers. And there’s no denying the effects of war, whether they see action or not, can be incredibly mentally taxing. However, are these all good men who are mistreated or lied to by the system they joined up to? Or do some of them use their training and perceived superiority in order to act however they wish? Perhaps in some cases it’s both, and maybe it’s a good thing that Jarhead leaves that decision up to the viewer.

Jarhead is a well-shot film with good performances. It can be tense and unsettling and the way it gives an unflinching look at a soldier’s life during war can make you take a long, hard look at the military system as a whole. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

After getting caught street racing one too many times, Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) has to move to Tokyo to stay with his father to avoid a jail sentence in America. There he meets Han (Sung Kang) who becomes Sean’s mentor and coaches him into becoming a major competitor in the world of drift racing.

Besides a cameo at the end, and the whole messed up timeline thing future films cause because of Han, Tokyo Drift is a film that can very much stand on its own in the franchise. It has new characters, a new setting, and a whole new style of racing not seen before in the franchise.

Having the racing style be drifting rather than a 10 second drag race, means the race and chases have a whole new feel compared to the previous films. Cars drive around like they’re on a slalom ski slope rather than the busy streets of Tokyo. The way the races are shot, along with a score that’s not so heavy on the techno beats, leads to some thrilling moments.

Considering how far this franchise of films goes in terms of having more female characters, and often ones that are just as capable and as layered as their male counterparts, it’s jarring to see in the opening five minutes of Tokyo Drift a teenage girl offering herself up as the prize for two young men to race for. It does leave a bad taste in your mouth and while there continues to be scantily clad girls, when a new female character is introduced in Neela (Nathalie Kelley) it is slowly revealed she’s not just a pretty face and has the most interesting backstory in the film.

Sean isn’t the most interesting of leads, and Black’s performance is not that great either (the guy doesn’t really know how to emote) but luckily Sean is surrounded by more interesting characters and actors who do better at delivering clichés-filled lines of dialogue than Black. Han is cool, calm and collected and is the kind of person who stays in the background to observe people. He forms a bond with Sean but that doesn’t stop him working with D.K. (Brian Tee), a young man connected to the Yakuza. It’s Black’s scenes with Kang and Kelley that make Sean feel more than a stand in for the audience as you get glimpses of what can almost be classed as chemistry between them.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift makes great use of the Tokyo cityscape, making night-time races look slick and the colours of the city lights, and the bright cars, pop. The first half of Tokyo Drift is a bit slow, but the second half is a thrill ride as things come to ahead between characters and stakes get higher. Tokyo Drift is a bit like the black sheep in the Fast and Furious family, and it’s one that has more resonance after the events of Fast & Furious 6/Furious 7, but it is still a good time. 3/5.