In a seven-figure deal, Universal Pictures has purchased Anthony Swofford’s Gulf War memoir “Jarhead” and hired William Broyles to adapt it. Red Wagon’s Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher will produce.
The deal has remarkable symmetry: A book written by a jarhead is being adapted by a jarhead for a studio run by one. Swofford, Broyles and Ron Meyer all served in the Marine Corps.
There was no shortage of film suitors for a book that became a sensation when Scribner published it as the U.S. mobilized the Iraqi invasion. Former Red Wagon prexy Gail Lyon brought Wick and Fisher the book, and the “Gladiator” producers were perceptive enough to align with a screenwriter who truly understands the warrior culture. Long before Broyles wrote such films as “Cast Away,” “Apollo 13” and the upcoming Robert Zemeckis-directed Tom Hanks film “Polar Express,” he was a rifle-toting grunt in Vietnam.
“There is truth to the saying there is no such thing as an ex-Marine,” Broyles said. “You are connected to everyone who has passed through that experience. There is a common language; you laugh at the same jokes. Each generation is another link in a chain.”
It took Swofford a decade to process his harrowing experiences into a book that is remarkably vivid, from the feel of sand in his ears to the bitter taste of petroleum-laced rain that showered the soldiers each day. It is reminiscent of “Full Metal Jacket” in its depiction of how men are broken down and forged into soldiers.
Wick, Fisher and Broyles felt that concentrating on Swofford as a tour guide through hell overcomes any hesitancy about making a movie about a war that was over as soon as it started, when U.S. forces landed and pushed Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.
“”War is a great convention for moviemaking,” Broyles said, “because it puts characters under a flame and you see what they’re really made of, and that is the best and worst of human behavior.”
Swofford, who is now working on a novel, said he chose the U/Broyles bid because he felt comfortable his story will not be overly romanticized.
“The cynical flavor of the book must be sustained in the film,” Swofford said. “It is as important as how a platoon becomes a family unit, one that keeps men together and sustained and fighting in this wild, violent and exciting structure.
“I have a lot of fondness for the men I served with when I was 18 to 22. I’m 33 now, and a different person. I certainly don’t regret the experiences I had or for having served. I got this book out of it and can’t begin to guess the person I’d be without that past.”