Peter Sarsgaard

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.

B is for Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

A young man named Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) navigates love, life, and being transgender in rural Nebraska in the early 90s.

I feel I should mention a lot of content warnings for Boys Don’t Cry. It contains transphobia, homophobia, rape, violence, deadnaming, transphobic violence, misgendering, murder, references to transition/surgery/hormones – and I’m probably forgetting some things. In short, Boys Don’t Cry is very tough to watch and it’s probably, unfortunately, a testament to the time it was made in terms of how it treats its trans main character, even when it tries to frame things to show the film is on Brandon’s side.

Hilary Swank gives an incredible performance. It’s perfectly measured as someone who is confident in who they are but don’t always have the safety and security to do so. Brandon is flirty and charming, if a little awkward at times and it’s easy to see why Lana (Chloë Sevigny) could become enamoured with him. All the other men in her life are fighters, and macho men stereotypes, Brandon is kinder and listens to her more than people like her mother (Jeannetta Arnette) and her friend John (Peter Sarsgaard) do. Brandon and Lana’s relationship is sweet and loving and Lana cares deeply about Brandon, no matter what other people think of him.

There’s almost a dreamlike quality to Boys Don’t Cry at times. Like when Brandon is racing down the highway or looking across the open plains of Nebraska. It’s down to the score and the way these things are shot to feel at once distant and immediate, like Brandon can escape and be free at any moment.

Boys Don’t Cry is an unflinching look of what life can be like for a trans man in a place where bigotry and ignorance run rife. It’s an upsetting and harrowing film and while things like the terminology and (hopefully) attitudes have changed, it’s a film that can make those who are unaware of the struggles trans people can face, see things from a new perspective. 4/5.

REVIEW: Jackie (2016)

jackie-movie-posterFollowing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson), First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) must fight through the grief and trauma to console her children and to define her husband’s legacy.

Jackie isn’t a particularly linear story. It starts with Mrs Kennedy talking to a journalist (Billy Crudup) about how she wants her husband to be remembered and the film jumps back and forth to the past, the future, and her current interview with a journalist. While some events seen are easy to place, others you don’t really realise when they are happening till the end of the film.

The score in Jackie is very noticeable, which for some may work while for others may not. It’s a very loud, orchestral score that doesn’t always seem to fit with the action on screen. That being said, at times the crescendo of music does seem to reflect Jackie Kennedy’s inner turmoil.

Natalie Portman’s performance really is phenomenal and she does deserve any award recognition she may get. There’s many shots just focusing in on her face or of her wandering the corridors of the White House and you can see without words the pain, anger and loss she’s feeling. Peter Sarsgaard also gives a great performance as Bobby Kennedy and he and Portman’s chemistry as two people united by grief is captivating. Make no doubt about it though, this is Portman’s film.

Jackie is definitely one of those films that feels like a well-made and traditionally “good” film and while I can appreciate it for that, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. It’s a beautifully shot film and all the costumes and make up look top-notch but at its heart is a few weeks of a woman’s life as she struggles to put her life back together. I feel Jackie certainly earns the critical acclaim it has gotten so far but it wasn’t for me. Though if you have a great interest in the Kennedy’s, then Jackie is probably the film for you. 3/5.

REIVEW: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

magnificent-seven-2016-posterWhen the tycoon Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) takes over a town and terrorises its people, seven men lead by bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) come together to take on his army and save the townspeople.

The Magnificent Seven is a lot of fun and a lot of that is thanks to the cast. The seven men have a lot of chemistry and each bring something different to the group. Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) is the joker and gambler of the group who enjoys annoying Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) a Mexican outlaw a lot. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and ex-soldier and Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) a knife fighter come as a pair, while Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) is a tracker and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is a Comanche warrior. They are all very different people and it’s the moments where they are all sitting around a campfire or are in a saloon talking that are real highlights of the film. And while she is the only prominent female character in the film, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) is a force to be reckoned with as it’s she who goes out to find men to fight for her town and she has the respect of the men she employs.

The cinematography in The Magnificent Seven is gorgeous, there are often extreme wide shots of the town and the battles and they all look wonderful. The fights themselves are also well-shot and the action is very clear to follow and you have a good idea of where everyone is in relation to each other. There’s only a few shootouts in the movie but when they happen there is a good pay off and the one at the start of the second act has a good standoff between the good guys and the bad.

There are some clichés and tropes in The Magnificent Seven, but the characters and action are so well put together that it doesn’t really matter that much. Some characters do things that you can see coming a mile off but that’s mostly because the formula for The Magnificent Seven is a classic and even if you haven’t seen the 1960 original, you’ll know what will probably happen as the basics of the story has been seen in many different genres of films over the years.

The Magnificent Seven is a lot of fun. It has everything you want from a Western and the final battle even offers some surprises. 5/5.