During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright was embedded in the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion? of the United States Marine Corps for two months. His book Generation Kill provides the basis for this HBO mini-series, adapted and produced by David Simon and Ed Burns who were responsible for The Wire. Anyone who saw that and expect a similar level of brilliance from this will not be disappointed.
As with The Wire, the beauty of such a series is the time allowed for the story to unfold and for viewer to get to know the characters. And like all good dramas, this is all about the people - real people in this instance, brought superbly to the screen by some excellent performances (and in some cases the actual marines themselves).
James Ransone from season two of The Wire plays Ray Person, R.T.O. (Radio Transceiver Operator), smart alec and habitual chatterbox. Sergeant Brad "Iceman" Colbert is played by Swede Alexander Skarsgard and is ostensibly the lead so it's a huge credit to him that he comes across just as American as the rest of the battalion. Reporter Wright (Tergesen) has a minor role but his presence is the outsider's viewpoint while "Captain America" (Nenninger) provides his own brand of hilarity, albeit in a disturbing way.
Make no mistake, this is not Band of Brothers. The moral and ethical issues of war are addressed but the emotional aspect is relatively low key. The emphasis in Gen Kill is very much on the brotherhood of the battalion and keeping spirits up through banter. The dialogue is inspired with the laughs situational or character-driven. Unusually but understandably given the circumstances, there is no music soundtrack and so it is left to the marines themselves to provide it through spontaneous singalongs in the humvees, bringing a warmth and humanity to the often unpleasant scenarios they face.
The real reason for the constant banter is that these marines are woefully undersupplied, hampered by the chain of command and frustrated at not being able to carry out what they consider to be proper missions. Internal politics and an increasing sense that the invasion is either unjust, badly managed or both pervades the grunts and officers alike. Traditional battle sequences are few and far between but then they do arrive are thrillingly realised, tense and adrenaline pumping.
Lacking a traditional narrative, Generation Kill's rambling episodic structure may not be for everyone. But for those with an interest in a realistic look behind the scenes of modern warfare, this is a highly entertaining, intelligently constructed and thought-provoking drama of the highest order. If you missed it on television or DVD, this glorious high definition Blu-ray should be right at the top of your wish list. Stay frosty.
EXTRAS ★★★★ Six of the seven episodes have audio commentaries from writers, directors, producers and cast and provide a fascinating insight into the minutiae of the filmmaking process; Generation Kill: A conversation with 1st Recon Marines - the actual marines talk with Evan Wright about their experiences as a marine and how well the show captured what really happened; Making Generation Kill - does exactly what it says on the tin; Eric Ladin's Video Diaries - the man who plays Corporal James Chaffin takes us through boot camp, practical jokes on set, filming in Africa; Deleted Dialogues - several scenes that didn't make the final cut. IN addition to these two hours of extras there is an interactive Military Glossary, Chain of Command Chart and Mission Maps, all of which can be accessed while you're watching the episodes via your remote control. This is pretty handy, expecially if you're not au fait with MREs, SOPs and if it takes a while to work out what Oscar Mike means. Overall, a great supporting package to accompany the main event.