Another HBO serie by the Ed Burns / David Simon writing-producing team(The Wire, Treme), this time based on a book by Evan Wright, “embedded” journalist from Rolling Stone Magazine.
The show covers one month of the invasion of Iraq in March-April of 2003, from the point of view of a Marine Reconnaissance unit riding light armoured Humvees. We follow this squad of “observe everything, admire nothing” men, hour after hour, day after day, in a sleepless rush towards Baghdad, crossing hundreds of kilometres filled with rock, sand, small towns and villages.
They experience some serious fighting as they look after the routed Saddam Hussein’s “Republican Guard”, cross Nassiryah city, discover the first Jihad insurgents arriving in Iraq from abroad and experience ambushes.
This is a clever diary of what the Iraq war might have looked like as viewed from the front line, the officers themselves surprised by the speed and the mess of the invasion, constantly seeking new objectives with as much coordination as possible. Which can sometimes mean no coordination at all.
One thing is bright in this show : its balance. This is no propaganda stuff about being pro or con the war in Iraq, it does not depicts flawless heroes or ugly one-sided bastards : it is simply describing, with a rather slow pace, events of war.
About the pace of the show, I think it is a necessary feature when the motive is to describe reality as much as possible, that is a lot of waiting, questioning, nervosity, struggle to keep the Humvees and guns working with sometime little resources. This is as well part of the Ed Burns/David Simon style, very different from the usual american fiction narrative style. No cliffhangers at the end of every episode, no "one episode, one battle" rule, no "character has to evolve facing adversity" plot. Instead, the narrative follows a natural rythm, slow, but it gets you hooked on what s going on.
What really seems to be the signature of the Ed Burns – David Simon productions : character writing. Everyone in the Marine Reckon Unit is a real person, with some strong personalities and no caricatures (at least that s my feeling) and you feel involved in what is going on. Obviously, this is as well based on Evan Wright talent as a journalist to manage to steal these little moments where the platoon members reveal themselves as they are.
The Marines depicted in the show seem satisfied with it, as it can be seen in a 2008 bonus material interview of some of them with Evan Wright. I was interested in knowing who the real persons were, that they don t feel betrayed, what they have done the 5 following years and I learnt that Rudy Reyes plays his own role in the show side by side with professional actors (he is very good, by the way).
This is HBO high quality production and realization standards, directors are Susanna White and Simon Cellan Jones. Seven 60 minutes episodes : get some, the cradle of civilisation, Screwby, Combat Jack, a burning dog, stay frosty, bomb in the garden.
To compare it with a somehow comparable stuff, I find it trillions of times superior to the series “ Band of Brothers” set in WW2, because it shows more of the relationship between soldiers and the countries they go through, even with minimal contact. And because it is great, period. No definitive answers in it about the war objectives, can be seen a an anti-Iraq war pamphlet, and in the meantime Evan Wright's work has been distinguished by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.
I'll put a 6/6.