Complex stories such as a controversial military invasion provide intriguing material for a motion picture, but a 2 hour movie is not a large enough window to fully flesh out the events. There are legendary war movies out there such as Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and Saving Private Ryan, but the most satisfying experience in watching a war drama is through the HBO miniseries format. Band of Brothers and The Pacific had the resources of a block buster movie but were given the unique ability to tell a story over 10 episodes. They aren’t diluted over several seasons and aren’t confined to a single movie, they are right in the sweet spot for fucking great TV.
The highly romanticized World War II has been covered by the 2 HBO miniseries mentioned above, but a much lesser known war miniseries called Generation Kill aired on HBO in 2008 which chronicles the journey of the US Marines 1st Reconnaissance Battalion as they invaded Iraq in the spring of 2003.
Evan Wright was embedded with the highly trained Marines to report on the invasion for Rolling Stone Magazine. He earned respect from the Marines as he stayed with them through the duration of the invasion which included many fire fights and life threatening scenarios. He wrote and published what he witnessed in his book Generation Kill which was published in 2004.
David Simon (The Wire) was the creator of the show writing the teleplay for the series with Evan Wright and Ed Burns. All 7 episodes were directed by Susanna White and Simon Cellan Jones (neither of which have created any works that I have seen) who did amazing work in recreating believable battle scenes.
There are a lot of people in this series, all of which are based on the real marines who partook in the operations. In typical HBO form, the actors aren’t the most well-known or accredited, but they all were outstanding in their performances. James Ransone (season 2 of The Wire) and Alexander Skarsgard receive most of the screen time in their portrayals of Corporal Josh Ray Pearson and Sergeant Brad “Iceman” Colbert. Lee Tergesen (Oz) played Evan Wright but was never referred to by his name only being called “reporter,” “Rolling Stone,” or variations of liberal mixed with profanities.
Ransone recited several hilariously deranged rants originally said by Ray Pearson. Despite his unique theories of life and peculiar attitude, Ray was a great Marine who functioned at a high level in terrible situations. Skarsgard delivered memorable polysyllabic comments on various topics in a cool tone and played the highly professional and likeable Brad Colbert.
Tergesen was good in his supporting role as the “fish out of water” reporter who asked the questions the most viewers wondered creating a bridge of understanding between the Marines and real people.
Other impressive performances are from Stark Sands who plays First Lt. Nathaniel Fick, Chance Kelly who plays Lt. Colonel Stephen “Godfather” Ferrnando (who speaks in a raspy but intimidating tone), and Eric Nenninger who plays the hateable Captain Dave “Captain America” McGraw.
I have a much stronger connection to Generation Kill compared to Band of Brothers and The Pacific. I was alive and conscious of what was going on during the Iraq war as it endured through my entire teenage years. Even though almost 15 years have passed since the invasion of Iraq, the songs the Marines sung, the culture they referenced, and the technology they used is much more relatable compared to a war that is close to 80 years old. Major General Mattis makes an appearance and is often referenced in the series and is currently serving in the Trump administration creating another timely connection.
I have yet to read the book, but from what I have gathered through a few google searches, the events that took place in the series are accurate to what actually occurred. The incompetence of leaders and officers, the killing of civilians, and politics within the United States military are as much entertaining as they are terrifying.
Being led by unqualified and politically driven superiors is what I relate to the most. My life has never been put in danger based on the decisions of my leaders during war time, but the core of the frustration the Marines felt towards many of their ranking officers is relatable to most hard working employees in civilian life. In every job that I have ever had I was forced to complete tasks that hindered my job which were ordered by uninformed and oblivious mid-level managers.
The killing of civilians during the Iraq war was rampant. Scenes of children being bombed, villages being attacked, and justifications for committing war crimes are all present in this series. Many of the Marines were distraught over the killings of civilians and the different reactions from various Marines was one of the more interesting aspects of Generation Kill.
War is brutal, dirty, and unforgiving. Generation Kill tells the true story of modern warfare through high level storytelling and concludes on a perfect symbolic ending.