I tend not to watch straightfoward war films as a rule, but I made an exception for Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar-winning film The Hurt Locker. The film follows an army squadron through a tour of duty in Afghanistan, counting down on-screen the days until their return. Their mission is to locate and disarm hidden roadside bombs, using remote robots, protective suits and sometimes their bare hands.
It's a documentary at war with a drama: there's no sense of overheating the story, dialogue or explosions, and the switches between action, tension and relief are unpredictable, so the Afghanistan setting is very much realism-led. On the other hand the characters themselves are still larger than life and their relationships are very much drama-led, for example the new team-member who is stepping into the shoes of a bomb victim and who feels he has to prove himself, and who is also a bit of a maverick - he takes a highly unconventional, hands-on approach to his first explosive job while refusing to tell the rest of the team what he's up to.
Taking into account the sharpness of the camerawork and editing as well, the augmented reality of the fictional drama wins out over the reality of the setting.
The film also appears to portray the relationship between soldiers and locals honestly - the soldiers are well intentioned, always carrying their phrase books and trying to do the right thing - but when there's an explosive device on the scene all this gets dropped as they have to force the residents out of the blast zone - sometimes at gunpoint as they lack the language skills to do it any other way. There's also no getting away from the difficulty of trying to be friendly to a crowd of locals when you know that one of them is carrying the mobile phone trigger for the bomb.
I am cautious about drawing any conclusions about how realistic this film really is as I have never seen action myself. Nevertheless I get the sense that Kathryn Bigelow may be one of the few non-combatants who actually gets what the Afghanistan war is really about on the ground - this is an action movie that seems to show a great deal of understanding. I would find it interesting to see what the real Middle East soldiers make of it.