In 1961 Joseph Heller published a book that became the satirical bible for all armed forces regarding the futility of war and the rules applied to it. Over the years many studios have attempted and failed to adapt this previously ‘unfilmable’ novel. In 1970 a mediocre version was released but it took a further 49 years until someone successfully managed to crack it into a visual medium, and cracked it they have!
To mitigate the scattergun plot of the novel the show’s creator has focused on one timeline and a single character that allows the futility and insanity to erupt around and through him.
The main protagonist is an artful, yet cowardly, bombardier by the name of John Yossarian who is played perfectly by Christopher Abbott who you may recognise as the last of the Girls actors to break out into more mainstream recognition. Yossarian discovers, after being dropped into a very sunny and Latin Europe during the push towards victory over the AXIS, that he may well be the only sane person in an entirely insane environment. The supporting characters can be hit and miss; his colleagues feel like they should mainly be in a Tommy Hilfiger advert through their sultry good looks and buddy culture. But it’s in the casting of the officers that the show truly shines and each plays the role perfectly.
George Clooney, also often lending his heavyweight Directing chops to some episodes, is Lieutenant Scheisskopf (learn your German and you’ll get it) as the barky but often absent commander of the airbase. Kyle Chandler plays Colonel Cathcart brilliantly as the on-site commander who battles Yossarian constantly in a cat-and-mouse game of mission goals whilst getting his hands dirty in black market smuggling with the opposition to feather his own nest. Lewis Pullman is equally great as the wet behind the ears Major Major Major Major (so good his parents named Him thrice) who is Colonel Cathcart’s puppet.
There are some lulls in the pacing, especially when Yossarian is whisked off to Germany to assist in the smuggling ring and impersonate JD Rockefeller for the purpose of impressing some Arabs to obtain their riches, but overall you are constantly kept engaged with some great one-liners and humorous situations.
What impresses most is how the show manages to captivate the novels original themes of the chaos and insanity of conflict whilst intertwining genuinely dark humour and some truly gruesome and heartbreaking moments.
It’s clear that Clooney’s choice to convert the source material into a mini-series is a masterstroke and allows the end product to flourish under his creative guidance. It’s also clear that he has been heavily influenced by previous directors he’s worked under as the mini-series feels like what the Coen Brothers would have created had they worked on M*A*S*H. and that truly would have been something glorious.
Watch this if you liked “M*A*S*H”, “Three Kings”, “Memphis Belle”