“Jarhead” has an oddly amorphous and inconclusive feeling to it. We never do find out who Tony is, and his best friend, Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), who shifts back and forth between sanity and hysteria, is a mystery, too. The old war-story narrative may have run aground in the Gulf War, but since questions of courage and character are left up in the air, you wonder why the material wasn’t played differently—with a greater sense of irony, say, or as absurdist comedy, in something like the style of David O. Russell’s Gulf War movie, “Three Kings.” What’s left instead of laughter is a rather sour implication. Underneath all the roughhousing, there’s a persistent sexual menace—towel-snapping in the shower and mock rapes and insults that depend on feminizing the victim of the joke. Broyles and Mendes are saying, I think, that men who are this casually abusive of one another’s bodies could slip, without much provocation, into sexually humiliating detained prisoners. “Jarhead” is an inglorious portrait of military life which points to the next Gulf War and the degrading japes of Abu Ghraib and other prisons.
If you see Jarhead this weekend, you'll understand how silly this is.