Generation Kill: Holy Verisimilitude, Corpsman

I’m not sure how I decided to watch Generation Kill. Maybe I was looking for something to download while Julie was away (and thus something she’d be uninterested in watching). In any case, I’m glad I did.

“Generation Kill” is a riveting 7-part HBO mini-series about a Marine platoon engaged in the early days of the invasion of Iraq. It’s written by the creators of “The Wire”, a show I continue to not watch, and based on a book by Evan Wright. Having seen a couple episodes of “The Wire”, I believe that “Generation Kill” is made in a very similar, naturalistic style. Alessandra Stanley agrees:

The script is faithful to Mr. Wright’s account, respectful of the soldiers he befriended and as opaque and ascetic as “The Wire,” an opus that forced viewers to parse multiple plots and a huge cast of characters without directions or subtitles.

The dialogue is remarkable–it’s all either military jargon or epithets. But it’s also remarkably real. The characters sound like young men in difficult circumstances, compensating for fears and anxieties with their training and a lot of gay jokes.

The show strikes me as quite Shakespearean. There’s a massive, entirely male cast, plenty of ribald humour and plots which are sometimes hard to track or make sense of. The show feels particularly Henry V when senior officers gather to listen to a raspy monologue by Lieutenant Colonel Stephen ‘Godfather’ Ferrando.

Like the best war movies, the battle scenes are rare but intense. Tom Shales calls it the Platoon of the Iraq War:

At the very least, “Generation Kill” — as written mostly by executive producers David Simon and Ed Burns of “The Wire” fame (Wright co-wrote some episodes) — qualifies as the “Platoon” of the Iraq war: an often poignant, sometimes shattering and occasionally criminally funny account of men trapped on a battlefield of confusion, uncertainty and cross-purposes. Wright and the filmmakers know it is not enough to say that war is hell or that war is evil. The point here also seems to be that war is stupid, this one more so than many others, and that the higher one goes in the hierarchy of command, the stupider the commanders tend to be.

That’s not entirely accurate, because Platoon relies on the conventional plot structure of the Hollywood movie. “Generation Kill” trades standard plotting for remarkable verisimilitude. The Marines drive, sit around and wait, drive some more, grouse and, on occasion, shoot at people. It all feels tremendously accurate.

I’m not sure I could watch 22 episodes of “Generation Kill”–the monotony would get a little trying–but I’ve been riveted by the mini-series thus far.

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