Screenplay : Danielle Alexandra and David Twohy
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1997
Stars : Demi Moore (Lt. Jordan O'Neil ), Viggo Mortensen (Master Chief Urgayle), Anne Bancroft (Sen. Lillian DeHaven), Jason Beghe (Royce)
In "G.I. Jane," Demi Moore's Lt. Jordan O'Neil joins director Ridley Scott's cinematic icons of female strength, endurance, and will-power. For those who don't remember, Scott is not only responsible for bringing the unforgettable duo of "Thelma and Louise" to the big screen, but he was also the first to direct Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the alien-busting, gun-toting heroine of the original "Alien."
Like these other characters, O'Neil is a woman of great potential who has been constantly stymied by the men around her. An outstanding athlete and Olympic medal-winner, O'Neil has been stuck at a computer terminal ever since joining the Navy because, as it was explained to her, Naval submarines don't have bathroom facilities for women.
Her chance to prove herself comes when a fiery Texas Democratic senator named Lillian DeHaven (Anne Bancroft) stirs up the military by demanding full integration. Although women have been a part of the military for years, a third of the positions in the armed forces are still off-limits to them. DeHaven uses her wiles to pull a few political strings, and gets the top brass to promise full integration within three years.
To makes things run smoothly, they decide to run some test cases to see once and for all if women can really hack it in the military's toughest outfits. O'Neil is chosen to be the test case for the Navy SEALs, not only for her strength and abilities, but also because she is attractive, someone you would want to see on the cover of "Newsweek," as DeHaven puts it.
Against the wishes of her boyfriend, Royce (Jason Beghe), who is also in the Navy, O'Neil accepts the chance to become a SEAL. What she doesn't realize is that she is being made into a political pawn, and she has no real allies, even those who are supposedly supporting her plight.
And what a plight it is. For those who have seen films like "An Officer and a Gentleman" and, more specifically, Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket," the sequences depicting SEAL training will come as no surprise. It's no secret that the Navy SEALs are the U.S.'s elite fighters -- arguably the toughest, most skilled combat fighters in the world. To achieve this honor, they must make it through three months of the most intensive, grueling, physically and emotionally exhausting training imaginable.
The training is conducted under the watchful eye of Master Chief Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen ), who constantly reminds his recruits that sixty percent of them will fail. Urgayle is an almost frustratingly ambiguous character because you never quite figure out what he thinks of O'Neil's presence. At times he seems to resent her, but at the same time, he is harsh when any of the male trainees show the same feelings. At first, he attempts to hold her to a lower standard than the rest of the men, but when she protests, he eventually accommodates her wishes.
It is in this portion of the film where we are treated to the scene of Demi Moore shaving off her beautiful brunette locks. Like Ripley in "Alien 3," the act of shaving her head has both a practical purpose (I don't think anyone could get through SEAL training with shoulder-length hair flopping everywhere) and a symbolic purpose. When O'Neil takes the razor to her scalp, she is removing the last remnants of her femininity, and trying to prove once and for all that she can and will be treated like everyone else.
"G.I. Jane" is expertly shot by Ridley Scott and cinematographer Hugh Johnson (who also worked with Scott on "White Squall"). Ever since 1982's "Blade Runner," Scott has been most notable for his intense visual style. During the training sessions, this grim visual flair stands in stark contrast to Kubrick's minimalistic approach in "Full Metal Jacket." The training looks gruesome enough on the surface, but somehow it never really gets under your skin.
The screenplay by Danielle Alexandra and David Twohy tells a good story whose sole purpose seems to be proving that a woman can be just as good a combat solider as a man. In a few instances, they allow characters to argue the other side, such as the physical limitations of women, and whether or not a woman would be able to drag a wounded, full-grown man off a battle field.
To answer these questions, they take a page from the "Top Gun" screenplay and cook up a convenient skirmish in the Libya, where the training will be put to the test. This is where "G.I. Jane" is the weakest, not only in the confusing action of the battle, but in the fact that these last passages feel so forced and obligatory, as if O'Neil simply passing SEAL training isn't enough to prove her worth. Instead, she has to show up her male counterparts on the battlefield itself, in both intellect and heroics, proving once and for all that gender is no indicator of potential heroics during combat. Whether that is true or not, this last sequence hammers the point home a little too hard, upsetting the balance between good entertainment, and feminist propaganda.
Nevertheless, for most of its duration, "G.I. Jane" is a highly entertaining movie. If anything, it was good to see Demi Moore pulling out her acting slump. After making a joke of a Nathaniel Hawthorne classic and baring everything in "Striptease" to little effect, "G.I. Jane" allows her to flex a little muscle, both cinematically and physically.
©1997 James Kendrick