James Badge Dale
Other than a few notable examples (THE THIN RED LINE, FLAG OF OUR FATHERS, LETTERS TO IWO JIMA), this theater of combat usually gets short shrift in WW2 films. THE PACIFIC aims to correct that, and, in doing so, the filmmakers have crafted another WW2 epic that’s just as good as BAND OF BROTHERS. Instead of following one platoon, THE PACIFIC instead focuses on three individuals (all of whom are based on real people) - who each bring something different to the table.
For this first part of the series, our protagonist is Robert Leckie, who’s the classic cynic- only wanting to ship home in one piece, and not too interested in over-the-top heroics. This isn’t to say he’s not a hero, which he is, but he remains a relatable guy in his normalness. We’re with him through the brutal and endless battle of Guadalcanal, to his brief, idyllic leave in Australia, to his eventual return to action.
Throughout this section, the focus occasionally shifts to John Basilone, as played by Jon Seda, who’s the all-American hero type. A seasoned marine before the outbreak of war, he quickly distinguishes himself in action and wins the Congressional Medal of Honor. He’s immediately shipped home to go on a War Bond tour, and from there, his storyline focuses mostly on his experiences back home, until his eventual return to duty at Iwo Jima. In one of my favorite episodes, we get to see his courtship of a nurse, with whom he falls deeply in love, and the conclusion of this episode actually chocked me up more than a bit.
The second half of the series leans heavily on Eugene Sledge, as played by Joseph Mazello (the kid from JURASSIC PARK!) in a towering performance. Initially, Sledge is the classic newbie soldier. Starting out as a bible-quoting hayseed from Mobile, Alabama, Sledge’s story is the most affecting as throughout the series, he’s the one who truly goes into the heart of darkness. He’s the kind of guy that even if he survives, a piece of him will forever be dead inside after the things he’s seen and done.
Sledge goes into some dark territory, especially when paired with “Snafu” Shelton (a tour de force from Rami Malek- who Hanks has already tapped to appear in his next film, LARRY CROWNE). Shelton’s a borderline psychopath, and the kind of guy who’ll cut out gold teeth from dying Japanese soldiers to have as a souvenir. At one point, he even spends a bit of time chucking pebbles into brain-matter of a dead Japanese soldier, who’s had the top of his head blown off. That said, Shelton’s not portrayed as a bad man, as by the end, you can tell that he actually does care about Sledge, and at different points he tries to stop Sledge from going down the same dark path he’s chosen.
THE PACIFIC really is an incredible miniseries, and while BAND OF BROTHERS was rough, THE PACIFIC goes down even darker territory. Nothing is left unexamined, including the appalling inhumanity of the Japanese soldiers towards civilians in Okinawa, and the way a lot of the dead Americans had their bodies mutilated by the Japanese in order to break the spirits of the men who'd find them. Pretty shocking (but sadly true) stuff. It steers mostly clear of sentimentality, and it’s probably one of the best hard-core depictions of war I’ve ever seen. While this may limit its audience (in fact, I believe THE PACIFIC was a bit of a ratings failure), those who can take it will think this is a masterpiece.
Besides that, each episode has a short historical background featurette detailing the context behind the events in each episode. Overall a pretty light selction, although I’ve heard the Blu-Ray is a little more stacked.