Executive Producers: Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman
Release Dates: March 14, 2010 - May 16, 2010 (USA)
Every Sunday night beginning March 14th it was imperative for me to turn off my phone, turn on the TV, and tune into HBO. The reason for this obsession was the World War II action-drama The Pacific, a ten-part miniseries executive produced by Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Gary Goetzman. Unlike their 2001 project Band of Brothers, The Pacific turns the attention away from the European battles and focuses on the Pacific theater of war. It tells the stories of young American Marines sent to small specks of land they can’t pronounce the names of. Upon landing, the Marines discover that the only thing more unforgiving than dense jungle and excruciating heat is the Japanese soldier, a fearless warrior who welcomes death if it means he can take an American life along with him. Over the course of the series, the Marines learn the shocking realities of war through banzai attacks, sleepless nights, and dehumanizing brutality. It’s a bitter lesson, and the audience is constantly reminded that even if one is lucky enough to survive life in hell, innocence is always a casualty.
Eugene “Sledgehammer” Sledge
For anyone wondering, this isn’t Band of Brothers II. Rather than stick to one company, The Pacific follows three real-life 1st Division Marines who have minimal contact with each other: Eugene “Sledgehammer” Sledge, Robert “Lucky” Leckie, and John Basilone. Sledge and Leckie would later write memoirs describing their time at war, and Basilone would be honored with monuments, a “Distinguished Marine” postal stamp, and the Navy destroyer USS Basilone. Episodes regularly focus on only one of the main characters, and if another character is shown, it’s only for a brief moment. As such, the story is not perfectly woven together to create a straightforward narrative. This method of storytelling is acceptable because it helps build the characters as individuals, and it also adds a dose of unpredictability to the action. Its only real downfall is the supporting characters sometimes seem expendable. When they are out of sight of the main characters, the audience loses them as well. This is understandable given the limited points of view used in the series, but when we have to wait until the epilogue to find out whether a Marine lived or died, it just doesn’t sit right.
Robert “Lucky” Leckie
As expected, The Pacific rises and falls based on the strength of its cast. Sledge, played by Joseph Mazzello, is introduced as a wide eyed teenager eager for the adventure of war. Though Sledge is too complex to be deemed an everyman, his deep and impressive character arc shows exactly why World War II veterans are haunted by their experiences. Leckie is a quick-witted intellect who develops a sort of cheerful cynicism in the face of death. James Badge Dale brings an abundance of charisma to the role, and Leckie provides valuable insight on the effects war has on a person’s psyche and religious beliefs. After his first firefight, Leckie gazes upon heaps of Japanese bodies and sees an injured Japanese soldier use a grenade to kill himself and the two American medics attempting to treat him. He later writes, “There are things men can do to one another that are sobering to the soul. It is one thing to reconcile these things with God, but another to square it with yourself.” Jon Seda does an adequate job playing the heroic figure Basilone, but the character is simply not as engaging as Sledge or Leckie. He’s an amazing sight to behold on the battlefield, but the audience is not given as many opportunities to sympathize with his hardships or learn his beliefs. Perhaps if Basilone had written down his thoughts on the war, his character would have been better fleshed out. Regardless, each of these characters provides a unique point of view on the various environments and dangers Marines encountered in the Pacific. And when Sledge and Leckie both happen to take part in the invasion of a heavily fortified island, the cinematic payoff is extraordinary.
This review is already running too long to really delve into the cast of supporting characters, but one name deserves special mention: Merriell “Snafu” Shelton. It’s possible that Shelton would have been an interesting character no matter who played him, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone could have done a better job with the role than Rami Malek. Malek successful steals just about every scene he appears in. With his Big Easy accent and weasel-like appearance, Snafu is a disturbing warrior who uses death to his advantage by ripping the gold off of Japanese soldiers’ teeth. War has warped his humanity, and he knows it. That is why he’s quick to keep a fellow Marine from walking down the same path and throwing away whatever innocence he has left. Snafu is all these things: repulsive, hilarious, caring, and absolutely captivating. Malek displays the kind of acting that wins awards, and he makes The Pacific an even more rewarding series.
Merriell “Snafu” Shelton
The Pacific is about more than its massive budget or heart-pounding battle scenes. I can only speak for myself, but when I used to think about World War II, my attention immediately turned to Nazi Germany. I was terribly ignorant of the sacrifices Marines like Sledge made fighting the Japanese, but The Pacific has provided enlightenment. The series is a personalized story of the men on the ground. They don’t know where they’re being sent, military intelligence sometimes fails them with devastating results, and they’re just trying their damndest to stay alive. The occasional glimpses of joy or romance punctuate the great ordeal Marines in the Pacific suffered through. Mazzello has said that playing Sledge is the most important acting role he’ll ever take on. It sounds like a naïve thing for a twenty-six-year-old actor to say, but after experiencing The Pacific, I’m inclined to believe him.