Saturday, 31 January 2009

Generation Kill, FX

Just a quickie, in light of yesterday's post on Ed Burns.

Generation Kill is a seven-part mini-series by Burns and David Simon, his co-creator on The Wire, adapted from the book by Evan Wright - a Rolling Stone journalist who was embedded with the US Marines at the start of the Iraq War.

The thing that struck me from a writing point of view was how much the opening episode epitomised Burns's mantra that writers should never explain: "say it once and move on".

The episode starts as a fog of jargon, acronyms and procedure, with little initially to differentiate the uniformed, crop-haired Marines.

However, the main characters and themes steadily emerge to provide an almost, er, Kubrikesque depiction of the absurdity of life during wartime; bizarre rumours about the death of J-Lo fuel conspiracy theories around the camp, while senior officers get in a rage about moustaches that violate regulations.

The key craft moment for me came when the journalist arrived in the camp. In the hands of lazier writers, the newcomer would be given a guided tour of the unit and introduced to the main characters: "This is Private Whatsit, but we all call him 'Thingy' because of his whatever..."

However, here he's flung straight into the middle of camp life and has to make sense of what's going on in the same way that the viewer does.

It's a warts-and-all depiction of the outbreak of war, with the Marines struggling to deal with uncertain orders and a lack of adequate information and equipment.

While the first episode deals largely with the 'phoney war' before the real hostilities began, it ends with the unit becoming unwillingly complicit in a murderous situation that highlights the ambiguity of their objectives.

Great stuff. (Channel 4 have just bought the series for terrestrial broadcast later in the year.)

Andrew Billen in The Times
Jonathan Finer in The Washington Post
The Guardian: Interview with Ed Burns (MP3)

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