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Recruiting The Filmmakers
"When I first read the book, what I responded to was the fact that the war was viewed through the prism of a very specific kind of person: one who was trying to deal with and discover who he was. I was enthralled by the mixture of machismo, comedy, surrealism and wry observation,” director Sam Mendes recalls about first reading the Gulf War memoir Jarhead. "It was a war book like no other, about a war like no other, that might possibly be a war movie like no other.

"Every Marine has a different experience, every platoon has a different experience, every battalion has a different experience—even of the same war. I was interested in making a movie about this particular fascinating individual and how his experiences in this war shaped him.

"What we remember about the Gulf War,” continues Mendes, "were these clean little images of these tiny little bombs perfectly hitting these toy towns, bereft of any sense of human life at all. A soldier on the ground has absolutely no idea of what's going on. To me, the interesting thing now is to enter it through a person on the ground, because that's where we weren't allowed to go in this particular war. Tony's experience in the desert took what we consider normal about war and turned it on its head—as if Salinger were dealing with the Gulf War.”

Swofford's best-selling and critically acclaimed book about life as a Marine in the early 1990s had been praised for many things, notably the painful honesty and irreverence with which the narrator viewed his world—a first-person observation from a third-generation soldier (Swofford was conceived in 1969 when his father was on leave from Vietnam) of the war machinery that surrounded him. In place of the classic imagery of scrubbed, uniformed heroes dedicated to a cause were young recruits in sweaty desert gear with a passion for rock music, a predilection for pornography and a growing and unfulfilled bloodlust. Having been trained for the kill and then stationed in a barren, inhospitable, surreal landscape, the testosterone-charged crucible produced alpha-male infighting (since there was no enemy in sight), debauched behavior and general disrespect for everyone from their commanding officers to the people they were sent to liberate…and all of it narrated by a soldier who is, at first, more at home reading Camus than adjusting to the harsh realities of jarhead life.

"If I was going to tell any story about the Gulf War, the one that I needed to tell was my own,” says Swofford. "I was 18-years-old when I joined the Marine Corps in December of 1988. The Marine Corps itself is very seductive for certain young men. Once I was in the infantry, I saw a group of guys who carried better rifles and had better gear. I found out they were the snipers, and there was a mystique about them.”

Swofford was then given the opportunity to advance from being a "grunt” to becoming a scout/sniper in the elite STA (Surveillance and Target Acquisition) Platoon. "The grunt fights for 15,000 poorly placed rounds; the sniper dies for that one perfect shot—I was hooked.”

Producing partners Lucy Fisher and Doug Wick, who purchased the book just as it was hitting the streets, believed in the timelessness of the material and the singularity of the author's painful, funny and observant voice. Their faith was confirmed by screenwriter William Broyles' own experiences as a Marine in Vietnam.

With a son in the military, Broyles identified with Swofford's story, as both a father to a young soldier and someone who'd seen combat first-hand. He says, "Tony's generation had a more clear sense of purpose. For whatever reason, they all wanted to be there. We were drafted. And by the time I got there in 1969, we had no idea what we were there for.”

"When I first spoke with Bill about adapting the book, he started explaining to me, from his own experiences of serving in Vietnam, that it's a club you never l

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