Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Pacific, "Part Four": Bad-ass bed-wetter

A review of "The Pacific" chapter four coming up just as soon as I have the pause that refreshes...
"This is as bad as my war gets." -Cpl. Ruddiger
The 1st Marine Division is back in action as Part Four begins, but Basilone is back home selling war bonds (and appears only as a character in a comic book being read by Pvt. Loudmouth) and Sledge is still in basic training. So the man of this gripping, nightmarish hour is Bob Leckie, in a tour de force performance by James Badge Dale, who shows you just how bad another man's war can get.

The Battle of Cape Gloucester isn't a particularly famous one, but Part Four worked as a reminder that all battles have their terrifying moments - and that the time in between action can be just as oppressive and soul-wearying, particularly in environments like New Britain and Pavuvu during the rainy season.

So we got that mesmerizing battle scene where the Japanese charge in the torrential rain like a horde of Orcs from "Lord of the Rings," while Leckie has to stand in the intelligence tent and wait to see if he has to blow it (and, possibly, himself) up to keep it from falling into enemy hands. But we also got a lot of scenes of the Marines slowly going crazy amid the rain and the mud and the waiting. Lebec eats his gun (stripping off his clothes first to keep the blood off his uniform). Gibson strangles a Japanese soldier to death and winds up being sent to a mental hospital - where Leckie himself joins him after everyone assumes his bed-wetting is a sign of him losing his marbles.

Leckie does, in fact, suffer from enuresis, but the mental hospital isn't an inappropriate place for him to be. As Dale shows throughout the episode, Leckie is struggling to keep it together out in the jungle. He can hold up enough to take out a Japanese squad by himself when he gets separated from his patrol, but the endless rain and fighting and waiting are getting to him, even worse than the other Marines. For Leckie to wind up in the loony bin, even briefly, is a shocking thing to see in a World War II story(*), but it really did happen to Leckie, and could just as easily have happened to anyone else in his company.

(*) As Bruce McKenna points out, "Band" did show Buck Compton cracking, "but you don't see Buck in the mental hospital after."

Ultimately, Leckie just needs a respite from the front, where Gibson appears irreparably broken, but watching this episode, it's not hard to understand how this could have happened to either of them, or so many other men like them.

Some other thoughts:

• This one was both directed and co-written (with Robert Schenkkan) by "Band of Brothers" veteran Graham Yost (who's now doing FX's "Justified"). Yost also served as one of the showrunners of "The Pacific." Matt Craven, who plays Dr. Grant, is a staple of Yost's work, having appeared in the Yost-directed episode of "From the Earth to the Moon" (my favorite one, about the engineers who built the lunar lander), a couple of episodes of Yost's "Boomtown" and was a regular on his short-lived Jeff Goldblum cop show "Raines." When I interviewed Yost for this feature about Elmore Leonard and "Justified," we eventually got to talking about "The Pacific." Yost told me a story about how Craven was on vacation in Europe and happened to cross paths with Tom Hanks, who was there to either film or promote "Angels and Demons." Hanks saw him, smiled, and said (in that high-pitched voice Hanks uses when he's about to be sarcastic), "Matt? Matt Craven?" Then Hanks looked around, puzzled, and asked, "Where's Graham?"

• That's Nate Corddry as Loudmouth. I wouldn't put his appearance on par with Jimmy Fallon's "Band" cameo (which many people felt was too distracting), in part because Corddry isn't as famous, in part because he already has a track record in drama (he was one of the better parts of "Studio 60"), but I have to admit it was briefly jarring to see him, particularly since he was a new addition to the company. (Had they cast Corddry as, say, Runner, I'd have more easily gone with it.) The real Loudmouth, by the way, was described by Leckie as being quite a bit heavier than Corddry, and was apparently killed by a falling boulder when the Marines tried to dynamite a path through the jungle.

• Soldiers wanting to bring home a Luger as a souvenir was a running story in "Band" (and got at least one paratrooper killed), and here we see Leckie and Lt. Larkin battling for ownership of the Luger-looking Japanese pistol. (I don't know much about weapons, but a cursory Google search suggests it was a Nambu.) And that in turn leads to the great scene where Ruddiger is collecting Leckie's potentially suicide-aiding possessions and Leckie points the gun at him. Who, in that moment, wouldn't take him as a crazy person?

Keeping in mind once again that we're going to avoid discussing any details about the main characters past the events depicted in this particular episode (for the benefit of people who know that we won the war but not what happened to Leckie, Sledge or Basilone), what did everybody else think?


BF said...

Line of the night: "It probably involved a boat"

Re-watched BoB's "Breaking Point" last night. And what stood out is that, despite the horrors, these Yost episodes have moments that are beyond hysterical.

Mo Ryan said...

For me this was the "In Treatment" episode of "The Pacific." I guess Matt Craven has a bit of a Gabriel Byrne vibe about him.

All in all, Craven and especially Dale did great work.

SteveDubs said...

I got a definite M*A*S*H vibe from this one, a combo of Sidney Freedman/Hawkeye in the bin in "Goodbye, Farewell, Amen".

Oh, and Craven is great in "Spider", the one "FTETTM" episode I could watch endlessly.

Anonymous said...

It's odd, but a lot of the dialogue quips almost seem out of place in the time period, but that's probably too many clich├ęd war movies talking.

Tonight's ep had some great interactions between the doctor and Leckie, but I especially liked:
"Can I get anyone something from the bar?"
"Dry martini?"
"It's not a real bar."

This echoes that one great exchange from the first episode:
"Hey, if we do end up having a ball, can I go as your date?"
"You are ugly. I want [him]."
"Take a number."

Brian said...

Was anyone else reminded of the Bill Ripken baseball card when they saw the "Tojo" and "F*** Face" signs on the Japanese dummies during Sledge's training?

BandofBrothersfan said...

Great episode tonight!!! By the way, Bruce C. McKenna gave a perfect reason as to why they gave a fictional romance for Leckie. I want some responses to this.
"You're right that this episode diverges the most from the facts of Leckie's book. The primary reason is that we only had fifty minutes to dramatize close to NINE months of time. Should we focus on the debauch? On the one relationship that he had that seemed serious? His growing drunken escapades? His dalliances? His time in the Brig? We decided to focus on one of Leckie's relationships to push the theme that despite all the women and wine and relaxation in Melbourne, the men still couldn't go home again. We picked a Greek family because we wanted to show that the War was indeed a world war and its victims were from all over the world. Melbourne had a very large Greek community. And we focused on the breakup to illuminate a central truth of men at war: that their relationships (family members, lovers) are absolutely crucial to them. And when those relationships are severed, the men are devastated. Leckie came out of Melbourne in many ways more cynical and damaged than when he went in. We needed a way to dramatize that so that his continuing descent into moral and psychological hell would make sense in Eps. 4 and 5."

paul said...

Brian, I had that exact thought. It probably helped that Deadspin had a retrospective on the Billy Ripkin card last week (which was hilarious).

I've read a number of reviews stating that the series really does not get rolling until episode 4, but is great from there to the end. So far so good. Last night's episode was a vast improvement, I thought, bringing out the horrors of not just combat, but the conditions in which the men were forced to exist. This was the second time they had to live in the jungle with limited supplies, in the rain, the risk of attacks denying them sleep, for months on end with no hope for respite. No wonder some of them started cracking up.

To bring the point back to the complaints from earlier in the series, this also gave us a more truthful development of Leckie. I hate to keep flogging the McNulty comparison, but it really is apt and you saw it last night. Leckie was arrogant, self-righteous, insubordinate, big-mouthed, and sometimes self-destructive. But he was also extremely bright, loyal to his friends and comrades, kind, and charming. I thought Dale (and the writers) did a great job bringing out all of these traits in what struck me as a particularly short episode.

BandofBrothersfan, I think you got responses last week, but I'll post another comment addressing McKenna's comments on last week's thread. I don't want to clog up this week's thread with debate over last week.

gordy said...

Am I missing something? Why is HBO not putting this on iTunes? I live in Japan without the ability to subscribe to HBO. Now, I don't mind paying for programming that I want to see, but if my options are not watching or finding it in alternative places, why would I wait? Putting up barriers on the internet.... small minds.

Matt in Raleigh said...

gordy said...

Am I missing something?


Gordy you haven't missed a thing yet and this thing is 40% done. It is "not good" - it's not "bad" either though. It's beautifully shot but it is no Band of Brothers - it's more like a pale imitation that it is being lovingly regarded as "good" by die hard fans of "BoB". If there wasn't the "BoB" association I think the reviews and opinions would be a whole lot different.

Gridlock said...

Excellent Hanks story.

Still not started watching this but looking forward to whenever I get my marathon on :)

Mike K said...

Last week I just re-watched Band of Brothers, as it was on In Demand again, and I can't help but notice that The Pacific is much more focused on specific soldiers, and I think that is almost to the detriment of the series so far. I like the show, but I feel there is just too much focus on Leckie and not enough paid to the group he served with. I suppose that is their objective, but it doesn't work that well IMO. So far we've really only had about 2 episodes worth of actual combat, with many intermitten breaks.

Also, in comparing the two title sequences, which is better? I could re-watch both over and over, and I am struggling to pick one.

BandofBrothersfan said...

Well, the tv critics are giving this series great writeups based on all 10 episodes.

Hollywoodaholic said...

I couldn't understand the dialogue end of Gibson's story to Leckie about the soldier pressed up against his back praying in the slit trench with him. I replayed it a few times. Is the last line, "I hope he did?" (Get saved)

LSAMRE225 said...

BF - I laughed out loud at that comment!

I didn't watch BOB until they were all done and could see them all at once. I still didn't feel as connected to those characters as I do to these. I feel like I hold my breathe through the whole episode and am extremely disappointed when it is over. Ep. 4 was no different. I too am a HUGE fan of MASH and Leckie resembles Hawkeye in so many ways. It has endeared his character to me even more.

Unknown said...

Can anyone tell what Gibson says at the end of his conversation with Leckie about being in a ditch with a fellow soldier during a Japanese bombing run on an airfield? He tells Leckie that the guy was behind him and that "he believed God would save him"... then he says something that seems very important to the story, but is unintelligible - something like "Jesus, I od'ed him", but obviously not that. Its driving me crazy.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Gibson says, "Jesus, I envied him."

Unknown said...

Thanks very much, that does tie it together.

The Bgt said...

I have to say this is the first episode that made me feel (some of?) the horror of the Pacific front. But not enough..

I am not sure if it is the writing or directing or the acting. Maybe is all together.

But for sure the acting is no good. So far I have only get impressed by the guys playing Gibson and Chesty Puller. All the rest are mediocre.

And I really really fail to see why ppl think the guy playing Leckie is a good actor..
I honestly think the man has ONE expression for whatever scene he is playing. I've seen ppl soon after their botox to have more expressions than he shows.

Maybe I shouldnt blame the actors, maybe the creators want them to play something between "worn out heroes but still true heroes" and a cliche monolithic constipation look that certainly looks so dramatic.

Yes I am harsh but the acting really annoys me.
In the little documentary at the beginning you could see the horror in the eyes of the real marines. I didn't get any of this from our actors. And I don't care about them or their stories. And this is the real problem.

The characters seem more as the connecting dots from one front to another and nothing else.

Of course we have 6 more episodes remaining and still there is hope that will get some of the BOB-like great television moments.

But so far Pacific feels to me more like a well filmed documentary than a drama.

Hollywoodaholic said...

Thanks for that clarification, Alan. So it WAS important because it played to Gibson's sense of complete hopelesseness.

This is the second episode in a row that it was good thing they didn't show at the White House premiere screening. For both nudity and some serious despair.

Also, not so great for my 13 year-old watching with me, but hey, it's history, right? (and biology)

BandofBrothersfan said...

James Bage Dale is a great actor.

Anonymous said...

Once again we get a combat scene in the dark that is nearly impossible to follow, and about 40 minutes of psychodrama.

I'm just about done with this series. I keep hoping for an engaging narrative to develop, but all we are getting is a "war his hell" lecture.

Frankly, I think there are many many veterans of the campaign in the Pacific who are not very pleased with the series reflecting only on the most extreme reactions to the conditions they suffered through. These are proud men living out their final years -- I lost an uncle recently who was a veteran of the landing at Tarawa Atoll -- and I'm sure this is not the way they wanted to have their story told.

Hanks, Speilberg and company have 6 hours left to redeem this melodrama.

Dennis said...

I had a couple of buddies who were really into BOB and maybe I'll have to give it another shot because I just liked it and didn't really love it.

The battle scenes in war movies don't really do it for me and I always lean towards character development so that's why I thought this was a great ep.

rosseau said...

If I did a TV blog and was writing about The Pacific, for Graham Yost I would have entitled a recap of Part Four, or Part Three "Maximum Bob." It does seem that way. We are apparently getting Bob Leckie's The Pacific. I don't mind if the actual person went through battles and events that are representative of the Pacific theater in WWII, but since last week was a fake, I had doubts about whether he really was in a PTSD hospital this time around.

And just focusing on him seems a bit too micro and may do a diservice to the other men in his company and to other soldiers in other crucial battles. I understand we the audience need a through line, a character that can tie the war together (sorry) but there certainly are other stories about other Marines and Army people that can have much resonance. I hope this is the case with the other two main characters. As it is now, this is only Bob Leckie's war, and despite his experiences and heroics, the miniseries feels a little lacking. Just a little.

Anonymous said...

I liked last night's episode because it was intense, gritty, and powerful, reminded me of the Snake Pit with Olivia De Havilland. Kudos to James Badge Dale. His breakdown felt very real to me, resulting from a bombardment of horrible events: witnessing a Marine's suicide, getting rained on day after day, grappling with eneuresis, having his stuff stolen by a superior. Dale subtly expresses Leckie's loss of faith, identity and control. Wonder if Hanks and Spielberg purposely chose three soldiers to focus on to differentiate this drama from BOB. As a die-hard BOB fan, I can't help but compare the two, but it's not fair. Each series packs a wallop and stands strong.

Anonymous said...

I have a question: did the shrink take Leckie's Japanese revolver as payment for letting him go?

Alan: do you know when Mad Men Season 3 starts?

Fellow bloggers, check out Alan's Mad Men blog on the Star Ledger site. His critiques are thorough and insightful. Comments are smart or colorful.

Anonymous said...

First of all, am I the only one who feels like these episodes are "Hanks' history lecture, veteran interviews, recap, credits-- about 35 minutes of story--teasers for next episode"? It feels like a of padding.

Second, re. mental illness, in BoB we did see Buck in the hospital-- with Malarkey reading to him. It doesn't seem like fear or weariness, per se, was what upset them--the thing that seemed to choke up the guys in Easy Company was the injury or death of their friends. The other mental illness plot in BoB was the hysterical blindness with Blythe, but he seemed to pull it together.

The Pacific "home front" concern with mental illness is completely missing in BoB--and they use recaps to bang us over the head with that statement about men coming out damaged... perhaps the Pacific was more damaging because the enemy was savage, relentless and hellbent on killing (or being killed). They showed us scenes of Germans surrendering.

Frostbite in Bastogne or malaria in the Pacific--you make the call.

TinMann0715 said...

For many posters here it seems that the series is missing the mark. I wish I had a magic bullet to fix that. IMO I think it is a very good series, but it may be a telling sign that the WWII genre may have dried up for now. BoB did a wonderful job of romanticizing the men and portraying them as heroic, even though they fought for less than a year (6/6/44 - 5/4/45) and, generally, were under much more hospitable conditions. Their stories rarely extended beyond Easy Company. 'The Pacific' is devoid of that intimacy. Hanks/Spielberg/Goetzman went after the human experience of serving in the PTO and I think they came up short. Saving Private Ryan, Platoon and Stalingrad are examples of movies that were successful.
I don't think it is the acting or the directing. I think they tried to jam too much into 10 hours. The war with Japan was just too big.

Bryan Murray said...

BandofBrothersfan - thank you very much for providing that link. I think it's great that Bruce McKenna is doing that Q&A and his comments are really interesting. I didn't really mind the fictionalization of the Australia stuff anyway - doesn't seem like most of those guys would remember much anyway.

I'm going to stop worrying about it but I can't understand why people are having problems with this show - it is an amazing show that is purposefully trying to show elements of war that have not been depicted before on screen. I don't think this genre is dried up.

Anyone catch the last few things Gibson said to Leckie in the hospital? I rewound the scene a couple times and still could not make it out.

belinda said...

This is probably my favourite episode (for now), maybe precisely because of the lack of any 'real' battle (or what we perceive as war to be, yet it was the most troubling episode for me. And the whole mental shock/illness stuff were all handled in a very genuine way - and not cheesy or trying too hard. I don't know, it was just really great to watch. So far, I'm shocked at how much I'm enjoying something I never thought I'd enjoy. (Which means, come the end of the TV season, I'd have BoB (and The Wire S5, but that's another story) to look forward too).

This is a stupid question - so, Leckie is THE lead character of this story, yes? Because we've had far more focus on this character than any other character (including Basilone or Sledge, who are the other two main characters).

Anonymous said...

I meant Season 4 of Mad Men.

Anonymous said...

Anyone have an idea what the japanese soldier was saying as he was slowing choked out and killed? Like wise what the Japanese soldier say while he was slow shot for sport in Episode 1?

Unknown said...

"Jesus I Envied Him". That is the last murmur of a line. Took me a few replays to figure out. hehe.