Hermit Cinema: Generation Kill
I have to admit that I have a very soft spot for many things military. Two of these things are Generation Kill, both the book (written by Evan Wright) and the mini-series based on it.
A while back in a dark, smoke-filled bar I got into a long though cordial debate, trying to make the point that the American military has been one of the most misused and wrongly applied resources of the later 20th Century. Time after time, they’ve been sent into places they didn’t belong, carrying out missions which bear little resemblance to what they’ve been trained to accomplish. I don’t know what it means, but my antagonist in that bar did end up buying all the rounds I could drink after being bested by my not-so-razor-sharp wit.
What the fuck does this have to do with the seven-part Generation Kill? Please, allow me to explain…
Imagine being an elite U.S. Marine, highly trained to covertly approach any target over land, through the air, from the depths of the ocean, or any other manner the enemy does not expect. You’re specialty is approaching an enemy in small groups, observing , attacking/destroying if necessary and then disappearing. (Sounds a lot like Navy SEALs I know and admittedly, these Marines are badass but not nearly as elite.) All the sudden, you’re then sent to invade Iraq in large, company-sized groups riding open-topped Humvees with no protection between you and any non-American types and the weapons they possess. Not a very covert way to conduct yourself.
Thus begins the story of First Recon Battalion, a group of young men without enough proper equipment but plenty of firepower and questionable leadership. Some officer’s and NCO’s shortcomings earn them mockable nicknames like Casey Kasem, Captain America and Encino Man. Their exploits are recorded by Evan Wright, a writer from Rolling Stone magazine who gains the men’s respect because he used to write for Hustler.
This is a great example of the paradigm that defines much of modern war: long periods of tedium interspersed with short periods of intense violence. It also serves to recreate the problem of deploying American firepower. There’s so much firepower at their disposal and they witness more than a few examples of it wrongly applied. The scene of them observing a peaceful village, ready to report that it’s non-hostile when suddenly the entire village is vaporized in front of their eyes by an American airstrike. The strike is ordered by a superior who may or may not have further intelligence justifying the strike and they’re suspicious, though they try to make themselves not think about it much.
Make no mistake. This is a racist, homophobic bunch, ready to exploit any sign of weakness in a fellow soldier. They all fashion themselves alpha dogs and will do anything to improve their position in the pack, whether that means questioning the recreational activities of their mothers or their racial purity. But you can also see their bravery, their commitment to each other no matter the circumstance. Their orders and Rules of Engagement are often hazy, as is some of their leaders’ proficiency.
Basically, the series does a good job of depicting the riddle that is much of modern war. It does it as realistically as I’ve seen. The character of ‘Fruity’ Rudy Reyes for example, who earned his moniker because he’s so attractive they all think he’s hot, is actually played by the real Rudy Reyes.
We pick up the story in Kuwait, as the soldiers wait for the inevitable invasion to begin while also trying to confirm rumors that J. Lo is dead. Mostly we follow the action in one Humvee with team leader Sergeant Brad ‘The Iceman’ Colbert (Alexander Skarsgard), his driver Corporal Ray Person (the outstanding James Ransone who steals the entire series in my opinion), Corporal Trombley (Billy Lush) and Evan Wright (Lee Tergesen), the embedded reporter from Rolling Stone. They’re commanded by one of the ‘good’ officers, Lieutenant Nate Fick (Stark Sands).
There’s plenty of other folks who play prominently in the story. I did want to call out Chance Kelly’s performance a Lt. Colonel Ferrando, call sign ‘Godfather’ because he’s had a few vocal chords removed. When asked how he feels about his condition by the journalist Ferrando replies, “Just lucky I guess.” Sergeant Espera (Jon Huertas) is a Mexican-American who is constantly remarking on the oppressiveness of the White Man. The soft spoken Captain Patterson (Michael Kelly) is another ‘good’ officer while Sergeant Eric Kocher (Owain Yeoman) is another strong team leader. There are far too many folks to list them all here but that gives you a taste of how many actors are involved.
In fact, that’s one of the challenges of this mini-series. There are so many characters it took a few episodes before I knew who was who and what their deal was. The fact that they’re ordered to grow facial hair for a mustache growing contest and are then ordered to shave them off didn’t help either. I’m pretty slow like that but I’d imagine most people would need a while to sort it all out.
Basically we follow First Recon on various missions throughout the invasion, culminating with their arrival into Baghdad. There we see the first glimpses that the invasion is only going to lead to a much more challenging occupation.
In between there’s plenty of politically-incorrect dialogue and good scenes. One of my favorites involves some of the Marines scouting an insurgent camp and upon finding a sack of rice, one of them pisses into it. The soldier is very happy with himself but his Sargeant remarks that, “These men are hard. They’re sleeping on the ground in the open living on whatever they can find. You guys cry whenever you get an MRE without a Poptart.”
This series gives a good glimpse of the good and the bad (plenty of the bad) and doesn’t seem to pull punches. It does drag a little at times but for a seven-part miniseries, it’s solid overall.
My grade? A – minus.