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G.I. Jane Review

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by Chris McEneany Apr 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM

    G.I. Jane Review
    Well, what can I say?

    At the time when this film came out I was going through Royal Marine training with the Reserves and the whole “be the best you can be,” “no pain, no gain” ethic was coursing through my veins like napalm. When I wasn't running about over hills and climbing ropes and cliff-faces, I was at home performing incline press-ups in front of a TV set with gung-ho war-flicks and Rocky training montages blazing across it. Consequently, Ridley Scott's ill-fated film came out at just the right time for me. My views on women in the forces (crucially their role within Special Forces) notwithstanding, I was an ardent fan of Demi Moore, her acting abilities totally redundant in my eyes. Thus, I was eminently able to shelve my views about her suitability as a US Navy SEAL and just luxuriate in the sight of her honed and toned physique taking the punishment of such a gruelling regime - the one-armed push-ups, the sweating and grinding chins and sit-ups etc - and revel with satisfaction at the dedication she afforded herself in the gaining of the body perfect. Even the shaven head proved to be delightfully symbolic ... if you know what I mean.

    I took the wife to see the film at the flicks, erroneously believing that she might actually endorse the notion of military equality, but, of course, Scott's film made an unbelievable hash of such things and really only served to reinforce the opposite opinion. And, although I still have a peculiar and rather illogical fondness for the film, I have to admit that it does get the whole thing spectacularly wrong.

    Demi Moore plays Jordan O'Neill, a Navy girl with Special Operations classification, a definite brain and the courage to progress reasonably far within her own specialised community. A talented sportswoman too, her name comes to the top of a list detailing potential military women who may, that's may, be able to make the grade in the gruelling selection process that recruits for the elite US Navy SEALs must undergo. And, of course, for such a career-minded and driven girl as Jordan, the opportunity to prove herself equal to the men who have presided over the US military since its inception is too great a lure for her to turn down, even if it means putting a considerable strain upon her relationship with Jason Beghe's more traditional naval officer. With the duplicitous backing of Anne Bancroft's badgering politician and to the enormous consternation of the Navy, itself, Jordan enrols with the notorious SEAL training program and learns the true meaning of suffering. With her fellow recruits angry at her easy ride into the remorseless process of selection - for some of them, it has been a long and arduous journey just to get onto the course, itself - and her instructors, led by Viggo Mortenson's frighteningly severe Master Chief, John James Urgayle, determined to break her and end this farce before the Senate believe that the notion of a lady SEAL could actually work, G.I. Jane, as the slavering media dub her, really has a challenge on her hands.

    “Failure is not an option.”

    The thing is, there is absolutely nothing new to the story. The initial and, indeed, novel concept of having a woman trying out for the hallowed and male-only environment of Special Forces loses ground fairly quickly as it is simply not in the least bit credible. Now, please don't get me wrong here, folks. I have no doubt in my mind that there are women out there who can get through such a harsh training regime as that depicted here, but the reasons for the fairer sex not being admitted into such elite sections of the military go way beyond the mere physical prowess of the candidate. And whilst I agree that a woman should have the right to want to put herself forward for such an undertaking, I have to concur that her place in such a close-knit, prone-to-capture unit is untenable and wholly counter-productive to its mission. It isn't simply a matter of sexism. It's simply a cold hard fact, ma'am.

    However, if a woman was to ever serve with such a unit, it would be Demi Moore. Man, does she come up with the goods here!

    Obviously a star vehicle for the actress, who also co-produced the film, Moore strikes a tremendously physical and gusty heroine, pushing herself across rain-lashed obstacle courses and over relentlessly unforgiving sand-dunes, gasping and grunting through sleep-deprivation and intense psychological duress. Her battles with the patronising top brass - who would stub out a cigar in her company if its phallic shape offended her - and rough ride with the paparazzi who want to play up a butch lesbian angle to her army-barmy character are nothing compared to the war of wills she engages in with Master Chief Urgayle. The pivotal SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) school sequence brings this conflict right to the fore with the infamous rape scene and it is here that the movie loses it, big time. Although a powerhouse of a scene - her team-mates beaten and bruised and penned in stressful captivity whilst the true implications of having a woman on the squad with them behind enemy lines is brought painfully home to one and all - the nasty aftertaste of Mortenson's and Moore's tussle unearths some horrible truths about the nature of conflict and power. Just how far was Urgayle prepared to go in order to prove his point? The film doesn't give any firm answers here and, despite the turnaround that these two characters ultimately make with regards to one another, there is always an unsettling air that has been created by this brutal moment. Of course the scene is meant to be squirm-inducing and thought-provoking, but the screenplay then denies us any specific closure to the deed apart from the set of formulaic contrivances that the film subsequently descends into. In fact, it is almost as though the script from Pitch Black's David Twohy and Danielle Alexandra suddenly frightens itself with the can of worms it has opened and, thus, retreats into the relative sanctuary of the routine, by-the-numbers action flick.

    Such a safety-net reduces the intensity of the drama considerably and plunges the story into pure Top Gun territory. In-house hostilities thrust aside; the recruits are suddenly needed to go into a live operation on enemy turf, their training not even complete yet. Sadly, this on-the-job training is so naffly shoehorned into the film that its emotional tying of loose ends is thoroughly unconvincing.

    “But you know the best thing about pain ... it lets you know you're not dead yet.”

    Moore makes a fair old stab of bringing her character to the brink of her endurance, battling against the physical trials of each successive “Evolution” of SEAL selection. Combat courses in the rain, and against real live-fire, endless overhead carrying of boats in and out of the surf, redundant exam papers that only she seems to make the effort in completing, and eating out of garbage bins in 0.01 seconds before another speed march obviously take their toll, forcing G.I. Jane to make the ultimate sacrifice in shaving her luxurious dark locks from her head in order to just fit in with her buffed and chiselled fellow recruits. The primal self-scalping sequence is a kind of classic though, the soundtrack enforcing the hollowing-out, metamorphosis nature of such a ritual, and the visual end result is striking and still supremely sexy. Gail Porter - hang your shiny-dome in shame and take note ... Demi Moore makes it look sexy! You just look ridiculous. But the problem is that she never really hits the emotional button, never reveals the inner-motivations of why she is putting herself through such isolating torment. Yes, she is a go-getter, sporting and career-wise, but these are just character traits ticked off by the writers and there is never a moment when we feel privileged to have met the real person struggling to prove herself. The politics behind her crusade detract terribly from the drama of her real endeavour, sagging the plot with the weighty issues that Hollywood feels all-too necessary to address. Anne Bancroft comes across as much too contrived to be of any real value to a story that really should have kept itself anchored to the military hardships of such an elite brigade, forcing, if required, an understanding of exactly what it takes mentally, as well as physically, to go through such a fierce indoctrination.

    “He's a big boy ... better take him from behind.”

    When the action finally arrives, it is hackneyed and falsely jingoistic. It is prudent to remember that the film came out prior to the events of 9/11 and, obviously, the Second Gulf War, and Scott and his writers had no really tangible enemy to play their newborn heroes off against. Libya was an all-too convenient excuse to ram G.I. Jane into conflict and the messy entanglement that she, and her team find themselves in feels cheap and tacked-on, part of the necessary formula for such a plot, perhaps, but still rather rushed and conveniently straw-clutched. The sand-dune runabout feels lacklustre despite Scott's typically awesome cross-cutting and energetic, in-yer-face direction. The seeds of Black Hawk Down - hands-down, one of THE best combat movies ever made - are apparent for all to see. Crazed editing and up, close and personal filming ensure that the adrenaline is pumping and the heart is in the mouth during Urgayle's flight through the badlands, but the staging of a recently learned ambush technique just feels immature and clichéd and, although fairly groundbreaking at the time, the lurching camera zooms have too much of an MTV style to stand the test of time. I like the helicopter crewman who steps out into the breach to blast off rounds at the enemy - something that Scott would employ to even more realistic effect in Black Hawk Down - and the desperation that Mortenson conveys with his fleeing Master Sergeant, but, as I said, the good stuff comes undone when Moore and her buddies manage to put into practice the tricks of their trade, becoming the Hollywood archetype of the team finally “acting as one” and endorsing the triumph over adversity approach that Tinseltown likes to inject into every conceivable genre.

    “I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop, frozen, dead from a bough ... without ever having felt sorry itself.”

    Trevor (Last Of The Mohicans) Jones produces a score that is completely disposable and simply cannot linger in the mind afterwards, which is a terrible shame when you consider some of the powerful work he has produced for the movies over the years. Nothing here has the excitement of his glorious Mohicans score, the brooding intensity of From Hell or the aggressive wall of sound that he created for The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Only a couple of cues manage to stir the emotions and, even then, it is probably the sight of bloodied skin-headed Moore putting the nut on her Master Chief, or the chaotic running of the Libyan gauntlet that Urgayle is forced to make that create the tension. Scott's directing is perfunctory and highlights all the things that people, in the past, have usually criticised - in that it is all style, weird angles, diverse lighting and pop-promo editing. The performances from Moore and Mortenson are great, even if the pair of them are pure stereotypes just going through the motions. Jordan O'Neill could, in fact, be anybody - male or female - out to prove themselves in the face of stiff opposition and bitter bureaucracy ... the typical underdog in other words. Master Chief Urgayle is the usual no-nonsense and utterly committed drill instructor, the most annoying cliché about him being the fact that he reads and quotes D.H. Lawrence and ends up revealing the compassion, heart and soul behind the macho exterior. I do, however, like the way that he pushes brutally through the ranks to get at a recruit who purposefully let the team down, and his reluctant admission at the end that he'll “never live this down.”

    G.I. Jane is ultimately a slapdash and lamentable affair. Its fundamental idea is hamstrung by the formula approach adopted, and any good intentions are largely squandered in favour of gung-ho, yet futile gestures about the raw heroism of the American military. Let's put it this way - we all loved and applauded Jeannette Goldstein as Colonial Marine Vasquez in James Cameron's Aliens because we totally believed in her abilities and her ferocity, but Moore's Jordan is simply a metaphor for the societal struggle for sexual equality without the intelligence to portray the proper type of candidate for Special Forces training in the first place. Physically ideal for the part, Demi Moore just doesn't strike the right chords, becoming exactly the puppet on a string that her character in the film has been all along.Thankfully, after another turkey in White Squall, Ridley Scott found his feet again and came up with Gladiator (yep, still my favourite film of all time) and then the magnificent Black Hawk Down. G.I. Jane looks and feels like a cash-on-delivery type of deal, a humdrum job that the filmmaker couldn't wait to finish. The lack of extras or, indeed, any attempt at a Special Edition only seem to reinforce this view.

    The Rundown

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