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7/04/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

GENERATION KILL

HBO, Sunday, July 13, 9 p.m.

Fresh off bringing their acclaimed series The Wire to a close, the HBO dream team of David Simon and Ed Burns shift their focus from Baltimore to Baghdad with Generation Kill.

Based on the award-winning nonfiction book of the same name by Rolling Stone correspondent Evan Wright, the seven-part miniseries from HBO Films spans the early days of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq as experienced by the Marines of the First Reconnaissance Battalion — the “tip-of-the-spear” unit that led the charge known as Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Generation Kill might best be described as dramatic reportage — its on-the-ground account of modern warfare rings true without resorting to mock documentary techniques. Forgoing a music score, the soundtrack is fueled by the Marines’ often brutal, crude dialogue — much of it taken from author Wright’s own dispatches while embedded with the elite unit, first in Kuwait and then Iraq. Filmed in Africa, the production also relied on technical advice from Marines, including Sgt. Rudy Reyes, who plays himself in the miniseries.

As with The Wire, fans (and detractors) will no doubt describe the miniseries as challenging, sobering and, even in its humorous moments, consistently dark. And like its predecessor, it benefits from a large, uniformly strong ensemble cast that includes Wire veteran James Ransone, Lee Tergesen (HBO’s Oz) and Alexander Skarsgard, who will co-star in the pay-network’s upcoming series True Blood.

To their credit, Simon and Burns don’t overtly politicize, letting audiences set their own moral compasses about the war and the people fighting it. Nor do they soft-pedal the grim realities on display.

But in telling the batallion’s collective stories, Generation Kill lacks a central protagonist and emotional focus that might engage viewers otherwise put off by its subject matter and unflinching recounting.