Sunday, March 6, 2016

A War Movie Review

The Danish entry and nominee for this year’s Foreign Language Film Oscar is A War written and directed by Tobias Lindholm. This is one of the more unusual foreign films you’ll see in that it more closely resembles a Hollywood film than most. It’s easy to forget that American soldiers haven’t been the only ones doing the fighting and dying in Afghanistan. A coalition of many nations sent soldiers there and A War is about a company of Danish men and women patrolling the countryside and villages to keep the Taliban at bay.

The company commander, Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbaek), is a family man whose wife we see struggling with the daily realities of three children, school, misbehavior, and meals, cares enough about his men’s mental health that he begins going out on patrol with them after a particularly gruesome incident involving an IED. He is careful and considerate in his decision-making and the orders he gives, but in a moment of not wanting to see more loss of life among his men, he gives an order that causes civilian casualties. Returning home, he faces war crimes charges for putting the needs of his men above those of the local population.

Setting aside any personal feeling one may have about whether or not he did the right thing and, given that, whether or not sending him to prison would be necessary or useful, we are still left with a situation wide open for disagreement. The law may be clear, but justice is a different story.

A War is rather too much like a Hollywood movie in that it expends too much effort illustrating what happens and not nearly enough on the why and what it means. The moral implications of Claus’s decision are the kind of thing I imagine military leaders grappling with on a daily basis in combat zones. This film deals too tidily with the outcome and spends an awful lot of time on courtroom drama and process. Considering Lindholm’s last film was the ThomasVinterberg-directed The Hunt – a film with a much richer exploration of the repercussions on a man’s life after a life-changing accusation – A War comes off as an even bigger disappointment.

Unfortunately this is one of those examples of a foreign film selected for Academy submission for the cynical reason that it will play well to American audiences. I wonder if there was some other Danish film that was better or more interesting. Then again, such cynicism paid off.

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