Through the first episode of Generation Kill, HBO's miniseries about the elite Marine unit that led the first invasion of the Iraq war, it was difficult to keep track of which helmeted, smudged-faced character was which. I feared writer-producer David Simon (creator of The Wire) and longtime collaborator Ed Burns were just resorting to the old disorient the audience because war is really disorienting trope. I shoulda known better - this is one wild, cliche-busting trip. By the second of Kill's seven hours, I'd learned: who the sane center of this story would be (Alexander Skarsgard's quiet but firm Sgt. Brad Colbert); how Jennifer Lopez plays a big part in Marine fantasy life; and why Charms candy is bad luck in this war. Now, having watched all five of the episodes HBO sent for review, I'm psyched for more of this head-spinningly thoughtful work. Unlike Steven Bochco's 2005 Iraq-war flop Over There, Kill is unconcerned with sympathetic characters - it lets its fact-based drama speak for itself.
Kill is adapted from a book by Rolling Stone correspondent Evan Wright, who was embedded with those Marines and is a writer on the miniseries. He's also a character; as played by Oz's Lee Tergesen, he's our innocent-eyed surrogate among the soldiers as they bump over desert terrain (Kill was shot in Africa) in Humvees that look as though they're always on the verge of breaking down. The men, however, do not. They're fighting a good fight despite equipment that's so antiquated, one of them compares it to Gilligan's Island: They're giving us rocks and coconuts to make radios. One standout performer is Wire vet James Ransone, who, as Cpl. Ray Person, dispenses eloquent screeds about following often contradictory orders, saying tartly, You know what happens when you get out of the Marine Corps? You get your brains back.
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