A WAR, drama, not rated, in Danish with subtitles, The Screen, 3.5 chiles
Danish director Tobias Lindholm favors a thoughtful, low-key simplicity in his titles and in his stories. His earlier film, A Hijacking, an excellent drama about a Danish cargo ship taken by Somali pirates, got swamped by the Tom Hanks version, Captain Phillips. This one covers some of the territory explored in Restrepo and American Sniper.
What’s arresting about A War for American audiences is the notion that young men of other countries are fighting and dying in Afghanistan, with no clearer understanding than we have of why. Lindholm balances his movie between scenes on the war front in a company of Danish peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan, and on the home front in Denmark.
Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk, the cook in A Hijacking) is the company’s commander. He’s a good soldier and a good man, moral and caring. When his men are shaken by the killing of one of their comrades, he steps out of command HQ to personally lead them on patrol. Back home, his wife, Maria (Tuva Novotny), has crises of her own, struggling to raise their three young children with an absentee father.
Lindholm scatters encounters with morality throughout the movie, both on the part of the Danes and their Taliban foes, but the turning point of the story comes when one of Claus’ men is desperately wounded during the terrifying confusion of a firefight, and he must make a quick battlefield decision that could save the man’s life. That decision will come back to haunt him, and the last part of the film deals with his recall to Denmark for a court martial.
The issues and ironies offered for our consideration by this Oscarnominated film are challenging, but the main question it poses is this: Who is to blame when things go wrong in war? Is it the young men and women on the front line, dealing in life-and- death moments of horror and confusion? Or is it the sages who send them there, not always with full disclosure of the reasons for doing so? Or is it everybody?
In the courtroom, Lindholm pits an idealistic young prosecutor against a wily defense lawyer. The issue for Claus is whether to be true to himself and take the consequences, or to compromise his principles for the sake of his family. It’s a troubling dilemma, and one that makes us ask who wins and who loses, and how firm is our standing to judge the actions of the people we send to war.
Soldier of fortune: Pilou Asbæk