Starring: Pilou Asbæk, Tuva Novotny, Søren Malling
Genre: Drama/ Thriller
Company Commander Claus Pederson (Asbæk) leads a battalion stationed in an Afghan province, while back home his wife Maria (Novotny) has to solely look after their three children who deeply miss their father. During a routine patrol, Pederson and his men are caught in a crossfire, and he has to make a split second decision that has grave consequences for him, his career and both the men he fights with and his family back home.
Cinema is always constantly trying to depict the unique and ever evolving experience of war, and of course a vast majority of us can only begin to imagine the experience of actually being there and fighting for one’s country. Despite technology constantly evolving, there will always be individuals that have to make decisions in a split second that are of deep moral and ethical complexity. Eye in the Sky is a recent example of a film that successfully examines the deeply complex morality of every decision that is made in how war is fought in the 21st Century, and so is Tobias Lindholm’s A War, albeit on a far more personal level.
The entire crux of the narrative is formed around a single split-second decision that Pederson makes, but this is actually made half way through the film, with the previous half allowing Lindholm to skilfully examine the effects of being away and fighting in war on both those away fighting, but their loved ones back home. Pederson’s story is the same as millions of other soldiers in that he is away fighting while his family is back home struggling to manage without him, not knowing if they will ever see him again. However, as commander he has to make split second decisions that involve both the lives of those under his command and civilians, and the narrative’s key moment is a decision he is forced to make and one he feels to be morally right, but in the world of 21st century war, every command is analysed and is under the scrutiny of procedure, code and law.
It is in the second half that the main plot takes hold and what unfolds is a deeply engaging study of the genuinely multifaceted world of 21st century warfare and the extreme complexity and scrutiny of ever decision a commander makes. However, just like his excellent A Hijacking Lindholm gives us a film that examines its themes with a suitably understated relevance and intelligence, and it is in its most dialogue heavy scenes that we get the most tension and intrigue.
The performances too are excellent; Lindholm once again calls on the two main actors from A Hijacking, this time with Asbæk as the leading actor, and he excels with an emotionally complex performance, making sure that his character is one of integrity and one worth caring baout. Søren Malling also commands the screen in the few crucial scenes he does have as the lawyer who represents him. Tuva Novotny is also excellent and depicts the anguish and desperation of a woman that not only misses the father of their three children, but her husband and companion with understated excellence.
A War is very much a film of two halves, with the first half predominantly being war-zone scenes and the second half being court room scenes. A Hijacking featured a similar combination, though in that case of that film they intertwined during the narrative, but Lindholm once again delivers both with aplomb. The battle scenes are shot with handheld cameras and extreme close ups that capture the anguish and intensity of the situation, while for the court scenes the camera remains static and Lindholm lets the dialogue and the exceptional performances do the work.
Admittedly at 115 minutes long, A War is perhaps a little too long and could have benefitted from losing 20 minutes or so as many moments just re-emphasise a point that has already been made very well. However, there is no denying the raw and understated power of the film’s intelligent examination of a personal experience of war and its ensuing complexities in the 21st century. It may only provide us with tough questions and no real answers, but that is because there are no straight forward answers, and it is the film’s intelligent examination that makes it such a gripping and engaging drama well worth watching.
An intelligent and engaging drama that examines the moral complexities of every single decision made in 21st century warfare and how it is scrutinised; A War grips from start to finish and is not afraid to ask us some difficult questions along the way.