POSTED BY STUART LEVINE
It hardly seems possible, following all the accolades David Simon and Ed Burns received for the final season of "The Wire," but the duo's current seven-part miniseries "Generation Kill" seems to be chugging along far underneath the radar.
I can understand why: Iraq War films have been having a difficult time breaking through theatrically for awhile now, and the same reasons for their failure on the bigscreen -- uncomfortable subject matter, violent, many view our invasion of Iraq as wrongheaded — make it a tough sell on TV too.
While watching anything Simon and Burns (pictured above) create is a given — the pair are currently putting together "Treme," about the post-Katrina situation in New Orleans — the first "Gen Kill" episode wasn't the easiest piece of material to digest. Characters were hard to distinguish from one another, dialogue was dense, there were a ton of military acronyms and the language was coarse.
Yet, one could've used those same excuses to stay away from "The Wire," and we all know what a mistake that would've been. By the second episode of "Gen Kill," I was completely absorbed, and after watching episode five last night, I'm ready to pull an all-nighter and finish up the series in the next day or two. (HBO has sent the press screeners of the entire series.)
Based on the book by writer Evan Wright, who's played in the mini by Lee Tergesen and was embedded with the Marines at the beginning of the war, "Gen Kill" has captured the daily ordeal of these soldiers like few other productions.
Similar to "The Wire," again, the actors here are mostly unknowns yet somehow feel as though they're as much a part of the real fabric of the war as were the kids on the streets of Baltimore. There's superior filmmaking and acting on all counts.
Special kudos, in particular, to Swedish thesp Alexander Skarsgard, as Sgt. Brad "Iceman" Colbert, who offers few words but always finds exactly the right away to address a FUBAR situation; James Ransone as Cpl. Ray Person, a motormouth of a soldier who's about as white trash as they come, yet has found a home for his skills as a member of the recon team; and Stark Sands as Lt. Nathaniel Fick, a young leader trying to keep his men in line while dissention keeps rearing its head. (Photo of Sands and Skarsgard, above)
The other performance that must be noted is from Chance Kelly (center in photo below), who plays Lt. Col. Stephen "Godfather" Ferrando. He's presumably earned the nickname after losing his voice and is forced to shout at whisper levels, a la Marlon Brando in the Francis Ford Coppola epic.
Internet buzz on "Gen Kill" is quite low. Granted, the Olympics are dominating the airwaves right now and folks are away on summer vacation. TV chatter is normally down this time of year anyway, with reality trash and basic cable skeins -- "Mad Men," "The Closer," etc. -- taking up most of the blogosphere and print space.
But TV connoisseurs need to make room for "Gen Kill," especially folks who were addicted and paid homage to "The Wire." The journey into Iraq might not be a pleasant one, but certainly a trip that will stick with viewers while U.S. forces remain hunkered down over there, fighting for their lives.