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Generation Kill: Not the Greatest Generation

Not a moment of Generation Kill feels corny or staged. Co-director Susanna White brings a deep documentary background to the project, and the effect is immediately felt.

Some cast standouts demand attention. Chance Kelly cuts a chilling figure as The Godfather, the scratchy voiced Lt. Col. who lords over his troops not unlike his namesake. He supplies the miniseries' requisite villain, but he's still allowed a few human moments, like when he tells the embedded reporter how his voice lowered to its current register.

The quickest mouth in the wiseacre battalion belongs to Cpl. Josh Ray Person, given a great deal of humor by James Ransone (Prom Night). This being HBO, we're also treated to numerous scenes concerning how Marines relieve themselves and manage sexual frustrations. John Wayne never had to suffer such indignities on screen.

Generation Kill comes from David Simon and Ed Burns, the creators behind HBO's celebrated series The Wire. Their imprint is all over Kill, even if the setting is thousands of miles from their former show's Baltimore 'hood. The miniseries' budget allows for superior location shots, with Southern Africa subbing for Iraq.

Not every scene is shot for maximum horror. One sequence has the Marines winding through a city street teeming with hidden insurgents. They take fire and return in kind, and after a few nail-biting moments the Marines drive away without having suffered a casualty.

Their caravan's members slowly exhale, then turn to each other with child-like grins beaming across their faces.

"We got lit up," one says, his smile the widest of them all. Even the embedded reporter drops his journalistic fa├žade to appreciate the moment.

Generation Kill wisely includes plenty of dark humor, the kind that's only possible in wartime. Commanders obsess over facial hair regulations. Marines hear a rumor that Jennifer Lopez has died back home and do everything they can to corroborate it. And the embedded reporter loses his only picture of his girlfriend to some lonely Marines. A snapshot of a pretty girl is priceless for men in combat.

Both Wright and the creators of Generation Kill insist their work isn't political. But political theater often involves what an artist chooses to show and what he leaves behind. It's impossible to deny Kill reveals some of their biases, but it's equally hard to write off the project's commitment to recreating modern warfare.