Tuned In: Combat

'Generation Kill': A raw look at U.S. warriors in Iraq

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The depiction of American Marines deployed to Iraq in HBO's "Generation Kill" (9 tonight), based on the nonfiction book of the same title, won't appeal to viewers who see America's armed forces through blindingly patriotic, rose-colored glasses.

They'll be appalled by the profanity of the troops and the Marines who mock letters from schoolchildren and make lascivious comments about the photos that kids send of themselves ("She's pretty hot. I like the braids"). But all these elements make the miniseries, from writers David Simon and Ed Burns (HBO's "The Wire"), feel absolutely authentic. An appraisal of the book at Amazon.com by someone claiming to be a Marine who served in Iraq labeled the book 80 percent accurate. One of the real-life Marines featured in the book, Rudy Reyes, plays himself in this miniseries.

An engrossing, detailed military character drama, "Generation Kill" is a modern-day "Band of Brothers," a warts-and-all account that hits closer to home because it depicts such recent events.

It's not the first TV program set during the Iraq War. FX's "Over There" offered its own take on battlefield life three summers ago. But, good as it was as a TV drama, "Over There" was more earnest and traditional in its depiction of American soldiers. "Generation Kill" is more raw and profane, more wild and wooly.

Each episode clocks in at a little more than an hour and will premiere at 9 p.m. Sunday for the next seven weeks.

"Generation Kill" follows the U.S. Marines First Reconnaissance Battalion, which was part of the first wave of attacks in 2003. Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright, played by Lee Tergesen ("Oz") in the miniseries, was embedded with the Marines and wrote three articles for the magazine and later expanded them into the book, published in 2004.

The miniseries begins before the invasion as the amped-up, pop song-singing young Marines prepare to go into battle against "the Hajis," as they refer to all Iraqis. But they feel ill-supplied.

"This is like 'Gilligan's Island,' " complains one Marine. "They're giving us rocks and coconuts to make radios with."

The core characters quickly emerge, led by dedicated, smart, responsible Sgt. Brad "Ice Man" Colbert (Alexander Skarsgård) and outrageous Cpl. Ray Person (James Ransone), a hyperactive, opinionated light-armored vehicle driver.

"Why can't we ever invade a cool country with women in bikinis?" Person asks in tonight's premiere. But next week he changes his tune once the convoy comes upon some attractive Iraqi women in a village. "I didn't know Hajis could be hotties. I thought they were all camel-faced hags."

As in many military stories, it's sometimes a challenge to tell the characters apart: It wasn't until episode four that I realized Colbert and First Lt. Nate Fick (Stark Sands) are two different characters.

The frat-house atmosphere begins to dissipate in episode three when a gun-loving, overly enthusiastic Marine shoots a child, bringing dishonor on his platoon.

"You've got to see these people are just like you," another Marine lectures the shooter. "We're not here to destroy their way of life."

Details that ring true distinguish "Generation Kill," especially the perfect character nicknames: Encino Man for a Neanderthalish captain; Godfather for a raspy-voiced lieutenant colonel and Captain America for a seriously paranoid captain.

In the five episodes HBO sent for review, "Generation Kill" doesn't stir the emotions in the same way "Band of Brothers" did, but it does an admirable job conveying a sense of life on the battlefield for modern Marines without taking a stance on the legitimacy of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv .


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