Movie Review - A War [Krigen]

Dar Salim (left) and Pilou Asbaek in 'A War'
Written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, this production was nominated at the 88th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. It was the submission from Denmark. It's the third feature from Lindholm as director. His previous feature, A Hijacking [Kapringen], was also critically-acclaimed, but was not an Oscar submission from Denmark or anywhere. Lindholm has mainly worked as a screenwriter over the past decade. He wrote the script for The Hunt [Jagten], which was submitted and nominated at the 86th Academy Awards.

The star is Pilou Asbaek (The Borgias and Lucy), a great actor who now has been in all three of Lindholm's films as director. It's also the third film by Lindholm to be about a man removed from his wife or female partner, and placed in an all-male environment with fear of violence, right at hand. Asbaek plays Claus Michael Pedersen, a commanding officer of a Danish unit of soldiers, stationed in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, probably some time between 2013 and 2014.

The reason I cite 2013 and 2014 is because of the specific reference to Camp Bastion. Denmark is a NATO member. It sent 9,500 personnel to Afghanistan between January 2002 and July 2013 to assist with the War in Afghanistan. Most of the Danish forces were set-up in Helmand province.

Helmand is one of 34 provinces in Afghanistan, located in the country's south. For that province, the British Army built Camp Bastion, the military base that became a logistics hub and a desert home for the Danish and American troops. Yet, in October 2014, Camp Bastion was handed over to the Afghan forces and renamed Camp Shorabak.

If Denmark stopped sending soldiers in 2013 and the base was handed over the next year, then this film had to have taken place within that span of time. Various Danish soldiers, including Claus, refer to the base as Camp Bastion, so that dates the whole thing in a way, but not to its detriment.

What Lindholm brilliantly does is pose two dilemmas for the soldiers in this situation. An Afghan man comes to Claus and asks for help, as the Taliban is threatening the Afghan man's family. The first dilemma is whether or not Claus and his unit should help the Afghan man because it would put them out of their way or possibly put them in danger. How Lindholm directs it and Asbaek acts it is powerful, subtle yet affecting.

The second dilemma is one posed in Rules of Engagement (2000). It's also a question posed by documentaries like Dirty Wars (2013), except addressed from the other side. It's also a question posed in this year's Eye in the Sky (2016), except this film keeps us in the perspective of the ground forces. That dilemma or question is if military should or shouldn't fire at a target when the possibility of civilian casualties or even fatalities exists, and how much should the men who decide to fire be held accountable.

The film does successfully pivot and become a legal drama, after beginning as a harrowing war-epic. Even though I enjoyed the 2000 film, thankfully this movie doesn't devolve into the melodrama or the histrionics of Rules of Engagement. Lindholm creates a credible argument on both sides. We are following Claus, and Asbaek gives such an empathetic performance, but still the argument against him is so strong that one can't help but feel for that opposing side.

That's why, even in a plain and boring-looking room, the latter half of the film is still thrilling, just as thrilling as when guns and bombs are going off in the first half. It also provides more of a soldier's experience, both abroad and at home, than Clint Eastwood's hammer-and-nail American Sniper.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language and some war related images.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 55 mins.


Popular Posts