Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Generation Kill (TV Series)

HBO are pretty good at war-themed miniseries. With something as good as Band of Brothers on your CV, anything to do with war you produce will instantly get my attention. Seriously, if you take anything away from this pointless wall of words, it shouldn;t be whether to watch Generation Kill or not but that you need to go and watch Band of Brothers right now. It's honestly the best thing I've ever seen produced for TV. It's essentially Saving Private Ryan but ten hours long and with the benefit of an even more experienced Steven Spielberg at the helm.

Putting BoB aside, which is something nobody should do, like ever, we'll move onto the main feature. Generation Kill is a seven part miniseries produced about the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, following the Marine Corps' 1st Recon Battalion (and their embedded reporter from Rolling Stone magazine). The series is based on the book of the same name, written by the aforementioned reporter Evan Wright. If anything though, the series isn't about him and instead focusses on the men he accompanied. The main characters are the guys whose vehicle he's assigned to, and one or two of their superiors. "Reporter" or "Rolling Stone" as he's called (I don't think you ever hear his actual name after episode one) is pretty much just a minor character who turns up every now and then to ask questions about things that the audience might need explaining.

It's the character of the marines where GK takes a much different approach than BoB. In BoB, there are soldiers who are bad at their jobs; they're incompetent or distracted or buckle under pressure, but it's shown to be not their fault and played almost for sympathy. In Generation Kill, those who are incompetent become the hate figures. Everybody fucks up once or twice. It's war, it happens. But when superior officers are repeatedly panicking and endangering not only their soldiers but innocent civilians then real animosity flares up between audience and character as well as between the onscreen personas.

That's the kicker of the whole series really. The "hajjis" or whatever racist term the soldiers want to call enemy combatants that episode aren't the people who come off worst, it's the US military. Constant mess ups that lead to, at best, animosity between the invading troops and locals or at worst mass graves full of those locals gradually sap away the enthusiasm about the war from most of the soldiers, whether they'll admit it or not. The invisible spectre of "war crimes" hovers over the battalion like a badly camouflaged elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.

Kind of like Zero Dark Thirty, Generation Kill is largely understated. There isn't a grand battle sequence every episode and I'm fairly certain that the number of bodies at the end without guns in their hands significantly outnumber those that did. The frustration at some of the soldiers at not getting the highlights reel of action they were promised in training echoes the sentiments expressed by soldiers from the previous Gulf War portrayed in Jarhead. The frustration mixed in with the revelation that the people they kill often aren't dangerous, added to by their superiors lack of compassion for the fallen, makes for a fractured and realistic vision of the strange effects war can have on the psyche of those not prepared for it.

The Iraq war was different from a lot of the USA's previous military operations and Generation Kill paints a nuanced and grounded portrayal of the effects that an unconventional conflict can have on a bunch of men trained to kill but not to deal with the realities of it.

But seriously, go watch Band of Brothers. Right now. Then maybe check out Generation Kill afterwards.

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