Monday, November 03, 2008

On Generation Kill

My love for HBO series needs no explanation here. I hope I've done that thoroughly in the past. And it just keeps developing. Since 2003, there's been no shortage of fictional and non-fictional works detailing our presence in Iraq post September 11th. With "Generation Kill", the creators of the brilliant "The Wire" (David Simon and Ed Burns) again step into a war zone littered with bureaucratic bullshit, idiotic chains of command and procedural headaches. From a police lieutenant who spends more time ogling Hustler in his office to the wrong turn of an army captain that lands his unit 25 miles off course, Simon and Burns completely seem to understand the fallacies of those higher up the food chain and they've made a veritable celluloid history out of these dunces. In "Generation Kill", there's respect and empathy for the common soldier as they serve as a Greek chorus to the screw-ups in charge. While we get to know and appreciate their sense of humor, we're also inundated with their overwhelming boredom during the first week of the Iraq invasion. It's not long that we want them to kill somebody as much as they want to. But, "Generation Kill" has more pressing matters on its mind- such as the right time to take a shit in the desert, exactly how friendly fire comes about, and how one soldier's demeanor abruptly shifts after his supply of Ripped Fuel runs out. This series may not satisfy the bloodthirsty crowd of the "Full Metal Jacket" devotees, but it certainly feels like the more representative picture of modern warfare. And remember, this is certainly not Vietnam.

Full of sharp characterizations and heavy on the military-speak (which in some cases takes a few episodes to figure out), "Generation Kill" is heavy on the insider vibe. Perhaps the only reason it translates to someone who didn't serve in the military is due to the presence of Rolling Stone reporter Evan (Lee Tergesen) whose memoirs the 7 part series is based on. As a cypher of ordinariness, Evan is our opportunity for someone to slow down the proceedings and say "umm, what does that mean?" In a battalion of adrenaline-rushed, self appointed "criminals back home", Evan (and we) watch as First Recon marines press further and further into Iraq. The quagmire of civil war, lawlessness, sickness and faulty military judgements mounts. While not completely condemning the military, "Generation Kill" creates several evocative members of the crew. There's Sgt. Colbert (Alexander Saarsgard) who recognizes the aloofness of fellow soldiers and spends most of the series trying to cover the ass of his subordinates so they make it home alive. There's Corporal Person (a wonderful James Ransome, recognizable from Season 2 of "The Wire") who dishes out most of the show's humor as a fast talking, wisecracking, movie/song quoting machine who deserves his own talk radio show rather than fighting a war in the Middle East. And there's Dock (Jonas Lotan) who tries his hardest to provide good medical care for wounded Iraqi children shot by trigger happy marine Trombly (Billy Lush). It's this disconnect between the desire to spread some type of good and the blind obedience to military order that stirs the center of "Generation Kill". And, like the best "war movies", it manages to create an unnerving sense of violence that any one of these characters could catch a bullet in the Kevlar at any minute. There's plenty of mistakes, but the idea that these guys are doing a service for their country and putting their lives on the line is never far removed... which makes those mistakes even more incredible. In that regard, some people may say that Baltimore got off a little easier than Iraq in Simon and Burns' uniquely trenchant portraits of law and order.

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