A WAR (Denmark/15A/115mins)
Directed by Tobias Lindholm. Starring Pilou Asbæk, Tuva Novotny, Dar Salim, Søren Malling, Charlotte Munck, Alex Høgh Andersen.
THE PLOT: Claus (Pilou Asbæk) is a company commander stationed in Afghanistan. When one of his men is killed by stepping on a landmine he ventures out into the field to try and keep morale up, as his wife Maria (Tuva Novotny) struggles with the couple’s three children at home in Denmark. After Claus makes a split second decision under fire, he finds himself back home under a cloud of suspicion.
THE VERDICT: Director Tobias Lindholm returns with his second feature film – after 2013’s ‘A Hijacking’ – with another film about the two sides of conflict, while also examining the pressures of long distance relationships.
Once again, Pilou Asbæk leads the film, as he did with ‘A Hijacking’, and once again he alternates between fear and the courage of his convictions. Claus is a character the audience has faith in and can root for, since he so deeply cares for the welfare of those he is stationed with, as well as trying his best to support his wife and kids back home. All of this changes in the second half of the film as Claus suddenly becomes the one needing care and support, and this turn in story is where Asbæk excels. The rest of the cast is made up of Tuva Novotny, Dar Salim, Søren Malling, Charlotte Munck and Alex Høgh Andersen.
As screenwriter, Tobias Lindholm makes sure the audiences have a level of knowledge of the event that turns Claus’ life upside down that perhaps even Claus himself does not have. However, for the rest of the film we are learning information as Claus does, and swinging between empathising with a man who made a terrible choice in a difficult situation, and the troubles that his wife now faces with having him home but under a new threat.
As director, Lindholm allows the tension to ebb and flow through the first half of the film, then to build solidly through the second. The film is well paced, although it is not always clear where it is going to lead us, and the second part of the story is slower and more dialogue heavy than the action laden first hour. That said, the performances are strong, and it is always clear to the audience that Claus is the focus of the story, although perhaps his wife’s story is equally as interesting, and the choice to split focus for the first hour of the film makes sense, but does not necessarily work.
In all, ‘A War’ examines the terrible choice between sparing someone else’s life and saving your own. Pilou Asbæk is strong as ever, and the film makes for gripping viewing, but the split focus of the first hour of the film leaves the film feeling a little scattered, and the second hour of emotional dialogue does not necessarily fit with the feel of the rest of the film. There is certainly plenty to engage with in ‘A War’, it is just a shame the film feels rather messy at times.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

A War
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.5Gripping
  • filmbuff2011

    A War is a morally complex Danish drama from Tobias Lindholm, the director of one of 2012’s finest films, A Hijacking. Like that film, it also features Pilou Asbaek – who bears a certain resemblance to another intense actor, Michael Shannon.

    Company Commander Claus (Asbaek) is stationed with his Danish unit in Afghanistan. They’re trying to protect the local villagers from the ruthless Taliban, who are seeking to recruit the villagers. He has a good unit of reliable men with him, but even they can succumb to the horrors of warfare – such as a soldier who realises that an IED was really meant for him and not another soldier who was blown up. Meanwhile, back home, Claus’ wife Maria (Tuva Novotny) looks after their three young children, who know why their father is not at home. After arriving in a village to check up on a villager who came to them for help, Claus makes a critical decision when his unit comes under attack. Did he make the right decision… or could he be separated from the family that needs him so much because of a potentially wrong decision that cost civilian lives?

    A War is a probing insight into the legalities of modern warfare. It’s not like Casualties Of War – what happens in the field, stays in the field. Every decision in the field, no matter how small, can have drastic consequences for individuals tasked with making life-or-death decisions like Claus. This is the film’s strongest point – which it rams home with force during Claus’ court martial in the third act. To be fair, the prosecution has a strong case – but so does the defence. Less impressive is the outcome. It feels like a non-event, rather than that great big moment where the audience can sympathise for the character. It ends in a rather solemn and low-key fashion, when it needed a more gut-punching feel. Perhaps that’s deliberate on the part of Lindholm, so it’s a forgivable mistake. After all, this isn’t a Hollywood film featuring Bradley Cooper (who would be ideal if it’s remade).

    Asbaek is a commanding presence throughout – he conveys the necessity of the difficult situations with credibility and a just a twinge of guilt. But he’s also understanding towards his men and towards his family. One of the most interesting scenes involves Maria questioning whether the lives of villagers in faraway Afghanistan matter compare to the futures of his children back home. She just doesn’t understand that he has gone through hell and back and isn’t the same man as a result. Making decisions about who lives and dies in the battlefield can weigh on anyone’s conscience. It may be a flawed film in spots, but A War is still a reasonably solid effort from Lindholm. It certainly gets world cinema off to a good start for 2016. ***