This TV series by the writers of The Wire takes their same ambivalent approach to cop/gangster life and then transplants it to the heart of the Iraq invasion by US troops in 2004.

This 7-part miniseries follows a bunch of potty-mouthed reconnaissance marines who are given the task of advancing into Iraq. Being reconnaissance, they’re not really equipped for combat, but order are orders, and soon these bunch of guys in their small vehicles with guns on top make their way into the heart of Saddam Hussein’s territory.

This is one of the most difficult-to-categories series I’ve ever seen. While it obviously falls under the broad genre “War”, that is not sufficient enough to describe it. Because most war films that you see have a certain angle that they take. Some take the action angle – all guns and explosions. Others are about heroism – men being brave under extraordinary circumstances, being leaders and rising to the occasion (complete with lots of trumpet fanfares). Others are anti-war films, showing the horrors of war, the madness of it all.

Generation Kill is all of these at once – thus leading to the conclusion. It’s striving (and it succeeds) in being a real picture of real soldiers – in fact, every character in the story is a real Marine in real life. (With a couple even playing themselves.) So if you want to find heroic characters, there are a couple in there. If you’ve always suspected that American soldiers are gun-toting hicks who just want to kill people – well, there are a couple of them in there as well.

What makes the series work (and also makes it so complicated to follow) is simply that the show’s creator David Simon simply refuses to let us have a break from real life. He refuses to simplify down the material to give us an easy-to-digest theme.

This is real life – it’s messy, conflicting, disorganised – and there it is on the screen. It’s not necessarily the approach you’d want to every war film, but it works well for this one.

Note to easily-offended viewers: American soldiers spend most of their time between and during combat swearing and telling dirty jokes. You have been warned.

4 out of 5.

 

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