Volume 75, Number 28 | Nov. 30 - Dec. 06, 2005

Koch On Film

By Ed Koch

“Jarhead” (-)

The basic training interaction between the marines depicted in this film is very different than what I experienced when I entered the army 62 years ago at the age of 19 in World War II. I can’t report on whether or not it is close to accurate, but I assume it is. While training for the marines is very difficult, it is hard to believe that the immature responses to the daily routine shown amongst these marines could be real. Nevertheless, I still marvel at their ability and courage when deployed in battle, which makes every American proud of them.

The script is based on a book of the same title by Anthony Swofford, which I did not read. The movie covers a brief period in 1991 of Gulf War I when the United States went to war against Iraq, which had invaded Kuwait. Indeed, most of the film covers the building of our forces in Saudi Arabia before we entered Kuwait to repel the invading Iraqis. Few combat scenes are depicted, but the burning oil wells in Kuwait, which the Iraqis set fire to before retreating, are shown graphically.

The principal roles are those of Swoff (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), two marines in the same unit, and Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jamie Foxx). Their roles are similar to those depicted in most war movies—fortunately, we are spared the prototype recruit from Brooklyn. Swoff is a guileless, bookish youth, Troy is enveloped with a mysterious background, and Sgt. Sykes, who guides them through basic training and combat, cares for them as though he were their surrogate father.

I expected much more from this film and did not come away at all satisfied. Indeed, I was disappointed. Efforts to convey sexual deprivation and emotional strains by emphasing the need for the young men to masturbate will titillate some but will hardly substitute for a satisfying night out at the movies.

“Breakfast on Pluto” (+)

An enormous array of emotions, ranging from poignancy to belly laughs, is exhibited in this unusual Irish film.

The principal figure is Patrick Braden (Cillian Murphy) who as an infant was left at the church rectory door by his mother who had an illicit affair. Patrick, who lives in the rectory with Father Bernard (Liam Neeson), has three playmates: Charlie, a girl of black and white parentage; a boy named Irwin who is very much like himself, and Laurence who has Down syndrome.

Patrick eventually leaves home and goes to London in search of his birth mother where he has many adventures. He is the victim of a sex predator seeking to strangle him and works in a sex shop where contact with the customers is limited to talking and looking. The scene reminded me of a Madonna video. After an IRA bombing incident, he is jailed and brutalized by the London police. Cillian Murphy is superb in his role.

I occasionally found it difficult to understand the Irish accents. There were times when I thought it would be helpful to have an old-fashioned pony used in Latin classes to translate the story and lay out the plot, which is often obtuse. I don’t want to be accused of revealing too much of the story, so if you want to know more about it, read Stephen Holden’s superb review in The New York Times. “Breakfast on Pluto” is a wonderful film, but why wouldn’t it be? The director is Neil Jordan who also directed the brilliant film “The Crying Game.”

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