Commander Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk) is stationed in Afghanistan with his company. Anxiety is high, general morale is low, and many of the soldiers are having a hard time, especially after one of their own is killed after stepping on a land mine. After promising protection for a local village family, Commander Pedersen and his company find themselves under heavy fire. Desperate and fighting to save his men under the circumstance, Claus makes a decision that has dire consequences for himself, his position in the military, and for his wife (Tuva Novotny) and children back in Denmark.
On the outside, “A War” resembles a plethora of military films that have before. Gritty and heroic, these kinds of films often strike a very masculine tone that underlies whatever war they are fighting. But writer and director Tobias Lindholm, who masterfully directed “A Hijacking” (a much better and more underrated film than its American counterpart, “Captain Phillips”), doesn’t make this about heroics.
“A War” is oftentimes too real, morally ambitious, and a great deal more relevant than perhaps any other war film in recent memory. It strikes the right balance in giving us the reasons behind certain character decisions, the difficulty and gray areas of the job, and the mental toll it takes on a person. In this case, Lindholm shows the effects on not just the soldiers in Afghanistan, but on Claus’ family back home. All without defiant judgement; the right and wrong, proud-to-serve attitude is practically nonexistent here, with the primary focus instead being on the challenges and no-win scenario a situation like the one Claus finds himself in warrants.
From Lindholm’s scenes in the desert to the scenes with Claus’ family in Denmark, there’s a striking resemblance, even though there is an obvious distinction between the locations. Both are sharp and brisk, something cold and calculated about them. The scenes in the courtroom in the third act of the film are bleak, sterile, and almost cynical. Lindholm’s cinematography in both locations is brilliant and satisfying on a visual level.
“A War” explores the moral ambiguity and dilemma after Claus makes a decision that is considered a war crime; a decision that he saw fit to make to save his men. On one hand, the audience can understand the decision. On the other hand, does his rash and rule-breaking decision make it ok? There are so many factors here and Lindholm explores the story’s content in an almost clinical, yet highly emotional and effective fashion.
The cast performances are nothing short of superb and they’re all given the chance to express their characters verbally as well as physically–the use of facial expressions to convey their inner turmoil is especially notable. Pilou Asbæk and Tuva Novotny are especially fantastic in their roles, with strong supporting turns from Dar Salim and the remaining cast.
“A War” is a well-studied and character-driven, no-win scenario kind of film that begins one way and veers in another direction completely. It’s wonderful that the film explores the separated family back in Denmark and the struggles they deal with on a daily basis since it’s not easy for them either, no matter how different their own conflicts may be. Lindholm proves once again how strong of a writer and director he can be and “A War” is one of his strongest films yet.
"A War" is a well-studied and character-driven, no-win scenario kind of film that begins one way and veers in another direction completely. Writer and director Tobias Lindholm proves once again how strong of a writer and director he can be and "A War" is one of his strongest films yet.