At the core of G.I. Jane is the topic of whether or not women should serve in the military. It’s at the core, sure, but it’s kind of locked away in a vault somewhere, and we’re trying to get through to it with a pickaxe. By the end of the picture, perhaps we have our answer, or we might have an unrealistic motion picture in which will and determination overcome any troubles a person can face. Where you stand on the issue is unlikely to be influenced by this movie.
The problem is that there’s no depth or subtlety to the picture. Demi Moore stars as a topography expert in the navy named Jordan O’Neill. She is chosen to attempt to complete the most rigorous training program on the planet, which is the one that the Navy SEALs use to train their recruits. We’re told that 60% of men who attempt it wind up dropping out, so it’s even crazier for a woman to give it a go. Behind the scenes, politics plays a role in attempting to make the military more gender-neutral. If this one test cast goes well, perhaps women won’t be as discriminated against. So they hope.
So, we have Jordan O’Neill showing up and essentially going through all of the mandatory training exercises for an hour and a half, followed by a twist and a mission near the end. All of the grueling scenes that the film puts Demi Moore through are effective and feel realistic if you’ve never been anywhere near the military. If you have, I can’t speak for you. They seemed realistic to me, and probably will to the average member of the audience.
I trust that they won’t feel too obnoxious to you, either, Mr. Military Man. The film is directed by Ridley Scott, and if you know anything about him you know that he does his research before making a film. There’s a good chance he read and watched a ton about military training prior to making G.I. Jane. It all feels authentic, and I’d believe that most of it could take place in real training facilities. Watching the singular struggle of this woman against not only a the toughest training ever but also her fellow recruits and the higher ranking individuals is inspiring.
And this is all while demanding to be treated just like the men. At the start of the program, she is given certain allowances because she is a woman — separate living quarters, extra time allotted on obstacle courses, etc. — but feeling that this is unfair, she asks that they’re done away with. We see all of the characters put through the grinder for weeks and weeks, and by the time the film ends, you feel a little tired from having watched these characters fully exert themselves for the better part of two hours.
The strength of the film is not its script. There’s not a lot that you won’t see coming, it’s often repetitive — challenge after challenge is thrown at our character, but that’s about it for the first 90 minutes of the film — there’s only one character who actually feels more than one-dimensional, and the film’s idea of women in the military is handled in such a way that it never really addresses the issue. It entertains and potentially inspires but it doesn’t make you think.
I wish there was more meat on its bones. G.I. Jane at one point had something more interesting to say, but it got lost among the multitude of training scenes. It could have tackled this issue from multiple sides, or presented to us more of a reason other than “if someone has the will, it can be done,” but as entertainment it succeeds. It won’t infuriate those on either side of the issue as a result, I suppose, and that might be why this type of approach was taken.
There are two great performances within G.I. Jane. The first, as you might expect, comes from Demi Moore, who shaves her head, adds on a great deal of muscle, and is then put through what is likely going to be the toughest shoot of her career. Most of the things she winds up doing in the film can’t be easily faked, so it seemed to me as if she really was performing most of the tasks involved in this (fake) Navy SEALs training. She doesn’t get a lot of dramatic moments, but as an intense and physically demanding performance, she puts it all out there.
The second comes from Viggo Mortensen, who plays Master Chief John Urgayle, the one leading most of the training. His character has undercurrents of something more, and the way Mortensen portrays him gives hints that there’s more to the eye than just a tough, kind of scary man. If the writing had been on-board to give him more of a character to work with, the character would be even more worthwhile. The rest of the supporting cast is fine, but they’re largely similar-looking army men who spout similar lines at each turn.
G.I. Jane works as entertainment and potentially as inspirational material. If you’re hoping for a film that has deep ideas and thoughts about whether or not women should be in the military, then you will be disappointed. This is more a film about one person overcoming the odds via determination and willpower. It’s exciting, if a touch overlong due to repetition, and it contains a strong lead performance. It just needed to see its central idea through to it becoming something meaningful.