Combat Blurs into Courtroom Drama in this Ethical Quagmire
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards Danish drama A War (Krigen in it’s original Danish) sees a reunion between writer/director Tobias Lindholm and Danish actor Pilou Asbæk (2013 Hitchaboo Honorable Mention A Hijacking). Lindholm’s A War is another character based drama center on one’s moral obligations, ethics versus law, and the gray areas in between.
A War begins at a Danish FOB (Forward Operating Base) in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. The Danish squad patrolling the area is doing its best to complete the mission – pushing the Taliban out of the area and mending relationships with the locals. Claus Pederson (Asbæk) is the leader of the small patrol group; and after some near misses and costly engagements with the enemy, sees the group’s morale suffering. Claus takes it upon himself to lead from the front as they push beyond enemy lines. Back home in Denmark, Claus’ wife Maria is doing her best with their three young children. Everyone in the family unit is beginning to show emotional cracks from the distance and unpredictability of Claus’ posting.
On what is like another typical envoy to a local Afghan village, repetitive of previous scenes Lindholm has show us already; the Danish soldiers find themselves under heavy enemy fire. Claus makes an instinctual decision that saves his men, but could have serious political repercussions. Deftly, Lindholm shifts A War from a combat thriller to a courtroom drama as Claus is swept up in a military tribunal. Words like ‘war crime’ and ‘murder’ are being lobbed at Claus. In this, Lindholm is able to make the cold confines of a bleak military courtroom as compelling as the soldiers entrenched in enemy fire.
The ability of Lindholm’s cast is substantial from lead to lowest supporting role. Asbæk, as Claus, carries the film with genuine weight and delicate positioning. He is able to suggest his character’s emotions, and to push forward plot, with soft words and stirring expressions. It is a shame that his talent is being seen by only those willing to read subtitles. Tuva Karolina, as Claus’ wife Maria, plays of Asbæk with the fragility of a wife unsure of how to deal with the chance of losing him all over again; this time to prison, just after he’s returned home from war. Notable supporting actor, the Iraqi-Danish Dar Salim, serves as the linchpin of A War; Claus’ best friend and fellow soldier Najib. Conflicted by what he saw in the field, and what he knows of his friend; he has to find his out ethical solace.
Lindholm has show serious screenwriting acumen in his career, with 2013’s Hitchaboo-winning The Hunt on his resume; and he continues his slow-brew style of subtle character-driven storytelling in A War as he pulls all the right strings to ramp up tension without ever vacating the realism of his film’s premise. He forces viewers to look at the facts of Claus’ case in the unblinking light of the legal system and ask themselves – would that have done things differently? Even if it was illegal, was it wrong? Is there an area between right and wrong?
Too often a film’s resolution has to push the boundaries of the screenwriter’s thesis; and viewers feel cheated by an easy out to wrap up a film. The subtle twist Lindholm employs as Claus’ court case is coming to a close is unpredictable without being unimaginable. When the outcome of the film is all but assured, A War shifts gears one more time to conclude with an appropriately and ethically ambiguous end.
- Directing: 9/10 – Tobias Lindholm’s handling of A War‘s genre shift from combat thriller to courtroom drama was trickier than he made it look on screen.
- Stunts: 9/10 – The combat scenes work nicely, even on the modest budget ($1.2 Million).
- Screenwriting: 10/10 – Lindholm is not only one of the best Danish film writers, but a preeminent talent in film today.
- Acting: 10/10 – Actors navigate ambiguous characters with confidence and conviction.
10/10 – A staggering work by writer/director Tobias Lindholm that blends multiple film genres into a thoughtful study on ethics and morality.