Sundays, 9 p.m.
Before the next war — whenever that is; hopefully never — every politician, every military commander, every enabler should be forced to watch “Generation Kill.” Ideally, they should have their eyes forced open and their head held immobile, like Alex in “A Clockwork Orange,” so they don't re-create the layers of stupidity and errors that have marked the Iraq war.
“Generation Kill,” a magnificent, compelling and painful-to-watch seven-part miniseries about the beginning of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, lays it out brilliantly — the tactical errors that placed our military in harm's way lacking the proper equipment and manpower, the strategic blunders like offering Iraqi defectors safe passage and then turning them away, and the miscalculations that led our armed forces to think they would be greeted as liberators.
We see this through the eyes of the U.S. Marines' First Reconnaissance Battalion, the guys assigned to lead the way from Kuwait into Baghdad. They're "perfectly tuned Ferraris in a demolition derby," in the words of one.
Their stories are told by Evan Wright, a “Rolling Stone” writer embedded with the battalion and brave enough to go into the battles. Real events are depicted and real names are used, according to the press kit. And since executive producers David Simon and Ed Burns (“The Wire”) have a track record of striving for authenticity, there's reason to believe that what we're seeing is close to the real deal.
“Generation Kill” thrusts the viewer into the middle of this group with virtually no introduction — much like Wright must have experienced. So it takes a while (four episodes for me) to distinguish the Marines from one another. And there's plenty of military lingo to sift through.
That's never really a problem, though, because the collective situations are what grab our attention. There's Wright with better protective equipment than the Marines (he bought his on eBay; they get green camouflage to go into the desert). The supply truck that's abandoned, leaving the battalion with one meal a day. The commanders who are more concerned with facial hair than safety. As one Marine says, "Ain't the Hajis [Iraqis] gonna kill us, man. It's the fucking command."
And then there are the battles — brutal, graphic, frightening scenes where they take on unseen enemies in hellacious fights. It's superbly, vividly photographed, to the point that you feel like you're being fired at.
The acting in “Generation Kill” is uniformly excellent, too, and by almost no one you've ever heard of. Lee Tergesen, who was Beecher on “Oz” and one of Wayne and Garth's friends in “Wayne's World,” is superb as Wright. He doesn't say much, but watch his eyes. He expresses fear, shock, bemusement and everything we're thinking as we watch. It's a brilliant performance.
Also terrific are Alexander Skarsgard as Sgt. Brad "Iceman" Colbert, who's as smart as he is fearless, and James Ransone as Cpl. Josh Ray Person, the motor-mouthed driver of Team 1 Alpha. Ransone is comic relief as much as anything, spouting profane opinions and leading the team in song (Wheatus' "Teenage Dirtbag," anyone?) while driving the Humvee into battle. He's a little more glib than you'd expect — though he's not the only one — and it's hard to imagine these guys all know the words to the same songs.
But overall, “Generation Kill” rings true. Too true, unfortunately.