"A small classic of tension, bravery, and fear, which will be studied twenty years from now when people want to understand something of what happened to American soldiers in Iraq. If there are moviegoers who are exhausted by the current fashion for relentless fantasy violence, this is the convincingly blunt and forceful movie for them."
"The result is an intense, action-driven war pic, a muscular, efficient standout that simultaneously conveys the feeling of combat from within as well as what it looks like on the ground."
"The Hurt Locker is a movie that finds the truth in war without all the political static that too often in the past has kept the voice of the soldier from being heard."
"If The Hurt Locker doesn't capture what it's like to serve or live in Iraq, no film ever will."
So there seems to be a general sentiment, belief, or feeling in the critics' circle that one of the main reasons THL is so good is because of its realistic portrayal and/or incisive commentary about the Iraq war or war in general. However it appears obvious, at least to me, that what the film is good at, and what the critics should mean when they praise the film for being realistic, is the skilled execution of cinematic realism; something not to be confused with realistic as in the accurate portrayal of real-life events. Certainly some critics do indeed only laud the film as a great work of realist fiction, however the critics I quoted, who are of a minority, seem genuinely confused. They actually think that the high artistic quality of a work of realist fiction entitles them to treat it like a piece of nonfiction. They think because "The Hurt Locker" looks and feels real, that it actually is real. Various information relating to the production of the movie, for example that it was shot in the middle-east, and written by a director who did journalistic work with an actual bomb squad, only perpetuate this ill-founded sentiment, which eventually crawled its way into the general critical discourse of the movie.
To give an example, when Black Hawk Down came out, I'm sure no one called it anything other than an exercise in movie-making, no critic praised it for its realistic portrayal of the Battle of Mogadishu, the event the movie was based on. It could be that Black Hawk Down is not as concerned with the psychology of warfare compared to The Hurt Locker, nevertheless the line between fiction and reality was not crossed so carelessly by critics.
What suddenly enables critics to judge the "accuracy" of The Hurt Locker and its commentary? The immediacy of the Iraq War is probably the most important, but it also has something to do with illusions of perspective in mass media, that text, images, videos, are made to seem like direct representations of reality, that reading and watching the news about the war, gives people the actual experience. I would guess none of the critics have any first-hand knowledge of the war. But they are also usually aware of their limits as critics of art. However when a movie talks about something that strikes close, they suddenly become both political commentators and war veterans. I think that at least in America, politics should be separate from art critique. They should probably be separate everywhere else too and always. An art critic who does not even attempt to separate the two possesses very bad aesthetic values. In practice, almost everything we read and watch is political, however the ideal still stands.
I wish one day Hollywood can make a Die-Hard/Rambo type movie set in Iraq, and have it be up for an Oscar.