"The Pacific" a realistic view of American combat

Mon Mar 1, 2010 9:39pm EST
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By Barry Garron

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Having created "Band of Brothers," the masterful 2001 miniseries that followed Easy Company from its training in Georgia through the D-Day invasion and until the end of the war, executive producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg now balance the equation with a project set in the Pacific theater.

The result is "The Pacific," premiering March 14, also 10 parts but in some ways as different in its approach to the material as the jungle warfare of the Pacific was from the more conventional fighting in Europe. Both miniseries are infused with raw, powerful stories of personal triumph and adversity, but "Pacific" feels more random and more contained. Each episode is so completely built on discrete incidents that a strong case can be made for calling this a limited series.

But call it what you will, it is a gem of a production and would be a highlight of any TV season. "Pacific," in its totality, conveys a sense of the combat experience that is as complete and realistic as any work of film could be. From the harrowing nighttime battles with a deadly but invisible enemy to the sheer misery of the punishing jungle climate to the macho posturing of the young American fighters, "Pacific" omits nothing.

Where "Band of Brothers" adapted Stephen Ambrose's saga of a single unit, "Pacific" melds the memories of three authors: Robert Leckie, Eugene B. Sledge and Chuck Tatum. Leckie and Sledge become two of the three principal characters; the third is John Basilone. During the course of the war, the paths of these three Marines cross, but each has his own circle of friends and unique set of circumstances.

Leckie (James Badge Dale), an aspiring journalist, is the most introspective of the bunch. Sledge (Joe Mazzello), initially kept out of the Marines by a heart murmur, enlists later and soon is plunged into combat unlike anything he could have imagined. Basilone's instant act of bravery gets him recast as public hero and a spokesman for the sale of war bonds. His collision with celebrity and glamour gives some relief from the constant hell of fighting and preparing for battle. However, it also stands out as perhaps the only contrived element in a work of otherwise unflinching honesty.

In an opening scene, a Marine officer lectures his new enlistees: "Whenever this war is over, when we have swept upon the main islands of Japan and destroyed every scrap of that empire, the strategy will have been that of others, but the victory will have been won by you."

That speech, and the occasional use of maps to toggle between acts, is as close as "Pacific" gets to a comprehensive overview of the fighting. This is intentional. The idea is to present the war from the vantage point of the Marines who deployed where they were told, rested when they could and then fought somewhere else.

In that confined space, writer Bruce C. McKenna finds a world of drama, including the Marines' anxiety about the unknown, their tugs of instant passion, their acceptance of barbaric warfare and, above all else, their painful and unexpected confrontations with their own mortality.

Praiseworthy performances are so abundant that it might be unfair to single out any one actor. That said, it would be hard not to take special note of Dale's work as Leckie, perhaps the most pivotal role because of the insight the character brings to so many situations. Not once does Dale falter.

Special effects are outstanding and convincing. Watch for "Pacific" to dominate every Emmy category for which it is eligible. Better still, just watch it.