Sometimes cinemaniacs get rewarded for stepping outside the theater. Scott Weinberg, his tongue possibly in cheek, thinks a viral 4-minute internet video is the best movie of the year. I am convinced that the year's best fiction-on-film (so far -- though I have trouble imagining anything topping it) is currently airing on HBO. That would be Generation Kill, the seven-part, eight-hour Iraq War miniseries from David Simon and Ed Burns (The Wire). I know, I know: this is Cinematical, not TV Squad. But Generation Kill is something no movie lover should ignore.

Fans of The Wire already know of Simon and Burns's uncanny, unparalleled ability to weave together hyper-realism, trenchant commentary and riveting drama, but even they may be stunned, as I was, by what this smaller-scale project has to offer. It is, quite simply, the deepest and most sympathetic portrayal of the military -- any military -- I have ever seen. It may also be the first "Hollywood" take on the Iraq War that is genuinely thoughtful and de-politicized. Rather than offering a polemic, the series (adapted from a book by Evan Wright, a reporter who rode with the 1st Recon Marine Unit) just observes -- and, by all accounts, gets close to the truth.


It is also, and maybe more importantly, a dramatic tour de force. It focuses on a fairly large set of Marines in the 1st Recon Unit (as well as Wright himself, played by Lee Tergesen), but after six weeks, I feel like I know these guys. All are professionals; none match the liberal stereotype of the dim-witted, flagwaving military yokel. Some are thoughtful, well-intentioned and kind, while others are scary in their desire to kill -- to "get some." But I think I'm starting to understand even this latter type. There's an overpowering performance by Stark Sands, and a deeply moving one by Alexander Skarsgård. The series breaks my heart every week.

You can read Generation Kill in any number of ways, its only unequivocal "message" being that we were ill-prepared to invade Iraq -- something that few people of any political stripe contest these days. What I get out of it is what strikes me as the essence of "supporting the troops": sympathy and a level of understanding. It's challenging -- the writers don't bother to decipher Marine jargon or explain much of anything -- but lest I scare you off, it's also the fastest eight hours of the year: well-written, touching and funny.

The last episode airs Sunday night, but HBO is rerunning the series all over the place. Give it a chance; I can almost guarantee you'll want to watch the whole thing. It's incredible.