“You don’t know what it’s like to be out there,” says one of the soldiers in ‘A War.’ Danish writer-director Tobias Lindholm’s riveting drama explores the moral repercussions of battle. We’ve seen many American movies dealing with the horrible consequences of the war in Afghanistan but this Best Foreign Language Oscar nominee breathes a new perspective from one of our NATO allies. It works so effectively well due to Lindholm’s candid way of telling the story without judgment. It’s essentially a war film, a family and courtroom drama all wrapped into one complete package. It deals with tough decisions that are made on the battlefield that lead to a no-win situation. Lindholm’s remarkable film makes us take a hard look at the price of combat from a brave soldier’s perspective.
Don’t let the English subtitles fool you; ‘A War’ is as engrossing as ‘American Sniper’ and then some. Lindholm is a confident director that thrusts us right there with the soldiers on patrol. Working with his go-to cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jonck, the dry terrain takes on a gritty, eerie quality. Shot on location in Turkey to replicate the Afghanistan landscape, we’re jolted out of the calm when an IED explodes. Suddenly, a jittery hand-held camera adds to the sense of chaos as the dazed soldiers scramble to help a wounded comrade. It’s a powerful scene as Lindholm forces us to watch the entire gory situation in front of us. Back at base camp, one of the soldiers, Lufti Hassan nicknamed Lasse (Dulfi Al-Jabouri) loses it and begs to be sent home. Company commander Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbaek) consoles him but is adamant in telling him there is no returning home. He restricts him to barracks duty. Claus takes over leading the patrols to boost morale among his troops. Now every new patrol they undertake has a heightened sense of tension knowing that at any moment, they can get ambushed or that one of them can step on another IED.
While Claus is dealing with the dangerous mission in Afghanistan, his wife Maria (beautifully played by Tuva Novotny) struggles with raising her three children back in Copenhagen. In particular, their son Julius is taking his father’s absence the hardest by acting out at school. Another scene shows the youngest son accidentally swallowing pills which leads to an unnerving emergency room sequence. These scenes are intercut with Claus dealing with children in Afghanistan. It’s frustrating and tense as the children crowd around the soldiers, as parents are fearful of their children’s safety from the Taliban and regularly used as human shields. To illustrate the cultural differences, one soldier acts as Claus’ translator reassuring a family that they will protect them from the Taliban in their village. You just know something is bound to go terribly wrong.
It’s Claus’ decision on the battlefield that haunts him as he is abruptly sent back home. Without giving too much away, the movie shifts to a courtroom drama. Claus wants to tell the truth and feel exonerated but the price of imprisonment will hurt his family. His wife pleads with him. “We need you at home. The children need you!” This is where Lindholm uses tight dialogue and stark realism to keep the courtroom scenes dramatically tense. Not only Claus’ fate but his family’s hangs in the balance. Asbaek delivers a flawless performance with stoicism and inner-strength. American audiences will get to know this immensely talented Danish actor as he breaks out into bigger roles as Pontius Pilate in the ‘Ben-Hur’ remake and as Euron Greyjoy in the ‘Game of Thrones.’ Swedish actress Novotny is equally compelling as his anguished wife. The way she holds her family together during times of crisis is remarkable to watch. She is a strong matriarch but knows that without her husband’s presence her children will be the real casualties.
‘A War’ is Lindholm’s way of processing Denmark’s decision to send their men off to Afghanistan in the name of democracy. It’s a solid and thought-provoking drama that pits a man’s love for his family against the moral atrocities of war. Check out the official trailer https://youtu.be/MyygZlPuoFQ.