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The Pacific Review

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Sun, sea, sand and slaughter

★★★★

Let’s make one thing clear: The Pacific is not Band Of Brothers 2. Not by a long shot. It may share the same Hanks/Spielberg DNA, blockbuster budget and fistfuls of Emmys, but this is bleaker viewing: a hard-R campaign depicted with unsparing ferocity. From the sweltering jungles of Guadalcanal to the sodden valleys of Okinawa, the Pacific campaign was every blood-soaked inch a race war. The writers could have shied away from the tougher material; to their credit, they don’t. “I’m here to kill Japs and I’ll use my bare hands if I have to,” snaps mortar man Eugene Sledge (Joe Mazzello), thudding round after round into the slumped body of an enemy soldier. Japanese wounded are casually strangled. Skulls used for penny-in-the-bucket. Prisoners taken can be counted on the fingers of no hands. It’s that kind of telly. It was that kind of war.

While it’s undeniably downbeat, The Pacific gives ample reason to care about the three Marines at its heart — the shy Sledge, uneasy returning hero John Basilone (Jon Seda), and smart, headstrong writer Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) — and emotional beats to carry us through the maelstrom. Ordinary men doing extraordinary things, as the saying goes. And with its narrower focus, there’s no danger of getting lost in the sea of khaki either, a common complaint with Brothers.

Sledge, though, is the dramatic epicentre, a sensitive soul gradually brutalised by the events he’s witnessed. And as you’d expect from HBO (and a $200 million budget), they’re flawlessly depicted, right down to the last shell case and brutal jungle skirmish. The battle scenes suck the air from your lungs — a tracer-strewn assault across Peleliu airfield is every bit as terrifying as Saving Private Ryan’s opening salvo — while vast CG armadas lend epic scale to the Americans’ island-hopping. But it’s in the quiet moments that the show really excels: the sidelined Basilone grappling with his guilt, Sledge consoling a dying Japanese woman, and Leckie weeping on his bunk, utterly beaten. It was that kind of war, too. Band Of Brothers was a hymn to comradeship; The Pacific is a moving lament to lost innocence.

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