Generation Kill

generation killFrom the makers of The Wire comes Generation Kill, one of the finest accounts of modern warfare. Words Matt Pomroy

‘Eleven thousand pounds of ordnance dropped,’ ponders one Marine, in post analysis of an air strike he called in, ‘and we didn’t hit any armour. Didn’t destroy any villages either. I guess that sort of goes in the win column, right?’

The absurdities of grunt life on the front line portrayed in Generation Kill are far more than just another war series. It’s based on Evan Wright’s outstanding 2004 book of the same title about the three weeks he spent with the Marine Corps’ 1st Reconnaissance Battalion as it made its way from Kuwait into Iraq. Bringing it to the screen are David Simon and Ed Burns, the screenwriters behind The Wire. With source material and screenwriters this good there was little doubt that the TV miniseries of Generation Kill would be something special.

Much like The Wire, the seven parts should be watched as chapters of a singular piece and don’t expect resolution or pat Hollywood answers, as this Catch-22 for the new millennium portrays the reality rather than a traditional narrative story arc. Its trenchant realism means that you watch what they experience, from the long stretches where no fighting occurs to the short, utterly chaotic bursts of hostility – portrayed as neither heroic nor murderous.

‘We returned fire and shot a donkey’s head off,’ says one Marine, coldly, after a recon’ mission goes awry. These are often young men eager to fight and, when human targets are hit, they witness the thrill and horror of killing. Their life at the bottom of the army food chain, on the sharp end of ridiculous orders and Kafkaesque military procedures, is brilliantly portrayed by an outstanding ensemble cast that at first seems too big, but soon fits perfectly into place.

Evan Wright’s role as the Rolling Stone journalist is played by Lee Tergesen, who made his mark as Beecher in HBO’s drama Oz. But the real star is James Ransone, who plays Corporal Person the driver of the Humvee that Wright is embedded in. His cynical white-trash wisdom and impromptu singalongs contrast with co-pilot Sergeant Colbert (Alexander Skarsgård) who’s the all-American marine, albeit sympathetic amid the confusion, egos and incompetence.

Generation Kill is apolitical, neither praising nor condemning, and is far stronger for it. The show, a dramatized account of actual events, simply documents what goes on – from the terrible food, dysentery, broken radios and wayward fire from units of idiot reservists, to the commanding officers who haven’t a clue what they’re doing. For the first time we get to see what the start of the war was like from the perspective of the men carrying out the fighting, rather than the politicians who ordered it.

While researching the book upon which Generation Kill is based, Wright chose to ride point at the lead of the convoy just to show that he was prepared to put himself in danger to get his story. And, as we roll with him, you grow to like many of the Marines – these are young men trying to do their best, despite the situation they are in. There’s something brilliantly absurd about a watching a convoy of trained killers rolling into Baghdad singing ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ by Wheatus. And it’s a reminder that many of these Marines are little more than adolescents themselves.

The title is a play on ‘The Greatest Generation’, a moniker that was given to the young American men who fought in World War II. As Wright sums up, ‘These young men represent what is more or less America’s first generation of disposable children. Many are on more intimate terms with video games, reality TV shows, and internet than they are with their own parents. Before the “War on Terrorism” began, not a whole lot was expected of this generation, other than the hope that those in it would squeak through high school without pulling too many more mass shootings in the manner of Columbine.’

In this seven-part mini-series, we learn more about this generation and the brutal, morally ambiguous war they are forced to fight in than in countless other attempts to depict the Iraq war. In fact, this mini-series is by far the best piece of fi lm or television made about the war in Iraq and the best series about warfare in general since Band Of Brothers. Get some.

From Time Out Magazine, October 2008

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