HBO Scores a Direct Hit With 'Generation Kill'

Here's one cure for the problems ailing HBO: Just let David Simon and Ed Burns do whatever they want.

Having already provided HBO with one of TV's greatest dramas in "The Wire", Simon and Burns now give the network its first great miniseries since "Band of Brothers". Based on Evan Wright's acclaimed account of the invasion of Iraq, the seven-part "Generation Kill" is what you'd hope for from the people behind "The Wire": an honest, barely adorned, sometimes painfully vivid representation of life as we live it now.

It's journalism converted to art, with both benefiting.

As in the book, we follow Wright (Lee Tergesen) as he's embedded with "recon" Marines. He's along for the ride; so are we, which means taking things as they come, without super-sized heroes, trumped-up action or imposed story lines.

That means you have to realize that information, while it will come, will not be spoon-fed. If it all seems confusing, chaotic and poorly planned — well, from what these Marines have to say, that's apparently how it was.

Which is not to say that Wright, Simon and Burns were not extremely lucky in the way reality played out, because it's hard to imagine finding three more fascinating Humvee mates than Brad "Iceman" Colbert (Alexander Skarsgard), Ray Person (James Ransone) and James Trombley (Billy Lush). Just notice the way "Scribe" smiles with secret delight at every outrageous exchange between Colbert and Person, knowing he's found a journalist's gold mine.

Still, beyond the jokes, insults and profanities, the soldiers come across as well trained and disciplined, with a healthy American attitude toward authority: obedient, but not blindly, and not without question and comment.

These are men who are good at doing what we ask them to do. But what we've asked them to do is kill, so don't expect them to behave as if they're at the church social. No sensitivity is safe, no bigoted insult is unexpressed — and they're so outrageously homophobic it borders, as one Marine points out, on the homoerotic.

We know that no film about Iraq could please everyone; the question is whether any film can please anyone. If what you're looking for is either glorification or vilification, go elsewhere. What "Kill" has to offer is clarity and clear-eyed empathy.

TV's the better for it.