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New Release Review - A WAR

A commander of a Danish platoon in Afghanistan finds himself accused of committing a war crime.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Tobias Lindholm

Starring: Pilou Asbaek, Tuva Novotny, Dar Salim, Soren Malling


A War comes close at times, but we still await the great Afghanistan conflict movie. Perhaps we'll have to wait for an end to the war so filmmakers can assess it in hindsight, in which case it seems we'll be waiting quite a while.




We've had several movies dealing with the protracted conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan at this point, but we've yet to receive a definitive take on the subject. Perhaps it's because these wars are still ongoing; most great war movies are made long after the conflict in question has ended. This is the first time in history when filmmakers have been explicitly addressing a war while it rages, and because these conflicts show no signs of ever resolving themselves, we've almost forgotten that so many western countries currently find themselves at war. Denmark has a sizeable presence in Iraq and Afghanistan given its relatively small military. The acclaimed 2010 documentary Armadillo followed a platoon of Danish troops on duty in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province, which now serves as the setting for Tobias Lindholm's A War.
Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbaek, star of Lindholm's A Hijacking) is a platoon commander who finds himself increasingly joining his men as they visit a nearby village under threat from the Taliban. On one such visit, Claus and his men find themselves pinned down under fire, a situation ultimately resolved when Claus takes a gamble and calls for air support to bomb a nearby compound. It later transpires that Claus's actions led to the deaths of 11 Afghan civilians, and Claus finds himself returning to Denmark accused of war crimes.
In its early portions, A War contains some nail bitingly tense sequences as the platoon are constantly on guard, struggling to decipher the friends and foes among the native population. Most striking is how different the Danish soldiers' reserved approach is from the gung-ho American stylings of most movies set in this conflict. Early on, with his men's morale at a low ebb following the death of one of their men, Claus reminds them of the reason for their presence - to free the locals from the Taliban - and there is never any suggestion of revenge being on anyone's mind. When a local pleads with Claus to allow his family to spend the night in the protection of the Danes' base, having been threatened by the Taliban, Claus goes by the book and denies their request. In the film's most memorable image, a female soldier turns her back in unspoken yet defiant anger at her superior's decision.
Interspersed with this we get scenes of Claus's wife (Tuva Novotny) struggling to raise his kids at home, but these segments prove little more than a clich├ęd distraction. At times Lindholm serves up sub-Spielberg storytelling that comes off a little cheesy, such as a scene of his son refusing to exit his mother's car later followed up with an Afghan native protesting in the same manner at a roadblock.
The movie's second half morphs into a courtroom drama, and despite some fantastic performances, the film suffers heavily, as it's simply not as engaging as the earlier warzone scenes. A large part of the problem is that the court case revolves around a detail that wasn't highlighted clearly enough in an earlier scene in which the incident occurred, so we're never quite sure whether we should view Claus with sympathy or scorn.
A War comes close at times, but we still await the great Afghanistan conflict movie. Perhaps we'll have to wait for an end to the war so filmmakers can assess it in hindsight, in which case it seems we'll be waiting quite a while.
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