Film Review – A War
War is a complex situation. We know that nothing is ever black and white in these situations but A War examines when those decisions are made in the heat of the moment and at the time they seem right but can call into question what is the right decision in the long run. This is not a simple morality tale and director Tobias Lindholm never makes it easy for us. As we live with his characters we see how they make their decisions and even if it is wrong we understand why the decision was made and we want them to be okay no matter what.
In Afghanistan we are introduced to a group of Danish soldiers lead by Claus (Pilou Asbæk), who is everything we would hope for from a troop commander. We see him be calm in tough situations, doing his best to talk with his troops and even going out on patrol with them to show that he understands the pressures they are under. He also is dedicated to keeping the local people happy and protected knowing that they are the important reason he and his troops are in Afghanistan. We know that there will be some incident that will call into question Claus’s conduct but this is never rushed. We spend most of our time just watching Claus doing his job, interacting with the troops, calling home, and going out on patrols and it starts to seem that this man could never make any kind of serious mistake.
What was engrossing was that even knowing that something bad was probably going to happen when the troops are on patrol the film takes it time getting to these moments making the shock of what has happened be felt by us as much as it was by the troops. We sense the panic they have when being stuck or watching a fellow troop die. Yet we also get to see these people being competent soldiers as well as seeing them methodically working as a team, taking their time in harsh situations and doing the kinds of things that most of us could never dream of doing.
While all this is going on in Afghanistan the look at ordinary life back in Denmark is just as methodically examined. Maria (Tuva Novotny), Claus’ wife, is dealing with her husband being gone and one of her sons is starting to act out a bit in school and not listening to her but he isn’t becoming a monster, he is simply scared for his dad and is acting out. Maria wants her husband home and does need his help but she is coping as well as she can on her own.
When Claus is called into question for a decision he made when out on patrol he is recalled home to stand trial and his wife stands by him and is determined to see him not be prosecuted. She wants him home to help her and the children. With Claus now being home we see the children happy and playing with him. His own troops come home and even those who wonder if he was doing everything correct still maintain that he is one of the best soldiers that they have worked with and from what we have seen they are not lying. Claus himself is a conflicted man, wanting to take the punishment from the court because he is haunted by the events but also seeing what he did as being right at the time combined with a healthy fear of going to prison and being away from his family. Even with Claus as a character there is no clear answer to what he is going through at a given time like with most people.
You start to feel very intently for Claus, even knowing that what he did is suspect at best because we have gotten to see him work with his men and spend time with his family and we know this is a good man. It is easy to want to see him go free.
This film also calls into question what are we asking of our troops in hostile situations. There is a rule that Claus was suppose to follow and he didn’t because he was trying to help his men. In that kind of situation we understand why he would do this but the end result makes everything that Claus and his men are trying to do in the country almost moot as it fails to do what is best for the people of Afghanistan.
This is one of the finest war films I have seen since The Hurt Locker. It really tries to look at the realities of war on a very human level. Director and screenwriter Tobias Lindholm is showing himself as a man that is greatly concerned with a level of realism in his films while also feeling compelled to tell a great story. His previous screenplay, The Hunt takes a look at what happens when a man is wrongly accused of being a pedophile and is beautifully done as well. Here is a director that never shy’s away from looking at some of the worst/complex aspects of human nature while still making it a compelling storytelling. This is something special and I hope everyone is able to experience this.