Picks and Pans Review: Jarhead

UPDATED 11/14/2005 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 11/14/2005 at 01:00 AM EST

Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard

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A Marine, stationed in Saudi Arabia during the buildup to the 1991 Gulf War, bends over a sink puking up torrents of sand. A dream scene, it makes for one of the more striking images in Jarhead, a somewhat plotless film that—despite enormous visual verve and energetic performances—proves as fleeting in staying power and meaning as a dream.

Based on Gulf War veteran Anthony Swofford's bestselling 2003 memoir and directed by Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition), the episodic Jarhead centers on Swofford (Gyllenhaal, in a fierce turn), who signs on with the Marines because, as he wisecracks, "I got lost on the way to college." He survives brutal basic training, qualifies as a sniper and is shipped over to the Middle East, where he and his fellow Marines wait for months to see action in a war that lasts just four days. Swofford's big insight: "Every war is different, every war is the same." Which pretty much sums up Jarhead; it is different from other war movies, but not distinctively enough to stand out. (R)

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A slight but fascinating documentary about Arthur "Killer" Kane, bass guitar player for the influential New York Dolls glam rock band in the mid-1970s. Three decades later, when the Dolls reunite for a concert in London, Kane's a 55-year-old recovering alcoholic who toils as a clerk at the Mormon Church's library in L.A. and has to borrow money to retrieve his guitar from a pawn shop. Sweet and oddly affecting, with a surprise ending that packs a wallop. (PG-13)

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