Nominated for Best Foreign Film Oscar, Danish import A War (2015) is an emotionally charged story about the war on terror and the impossible situations in which soldiers are often placed. Part war story, part courtroom drama, the film stars rising young talent Pilou Asbæk as a squadron commander in Afghanistan who during a battle reports false information in order to save the life of a gravely wounded comrade. When his actions lead to the accidental death of some Afgan civilians, he is brought up on serious charges and faces a long prison term. As becomes clear in the following trial, Western governments want their military interventions nice and clean, with no mistakes or collateral damage whatsoever, even at the risk of their own troops. But when fighting an enemy with no uniforms who are able to blend into the local populace, are such laudable goals even possible?
The film attempts to capture all angles of a modern soldier's life, including the plight of Asbæk's wife Maria (Tuva Novotny) who faces struggles of her own. Trying to raise three young children who pine for their father, Maria's exhausting days are spent trying to keep them on the straight and narrow long enough to maintain an illusion of calm for Daddy's nightly Skype chats. For in this technological age, our soldiers remain connected enough to still be fully aware of their crumbling families, but powerless to help. Director Tobias Lindholm pushes this subplot just enough to create well rounded characters of his camo-clad warriors, as they're beset by fears and dangers from all sides. Ironically, once Asbæk returns home to face his legal proceedings, he spends much of his time alone on the patio, immersed in cigarette smoke and deep thought. As Lindholm subtily and sadly posits, the family seemed closer when Dad was deployed.
Fans of recent Danish productions will spot a number of familiar faces. Asbæk’s colleagues from Borgen include Soren Malling as a defense attorney and Dar Salim as an army officer, along with Charlotte Munck from Headhunter (2009) and the excellent TV series Anna Pihl (2006-08). I saw the film at a newly opened theater that features the latest in Dolby Atmos audio technology. While I am not usually a fan of such gimmicks, the effect is put to good use here, with the battle scenes’ explosions and gunfire reverberating with a soul shattering power I had never experienced before. One gains a deep appreciation of how difficult it is for soldiers to keep cool heads and make good decisions while immersed in such deafening bedlam. A War breaks no new ground in the genre of modern war movies, but it's highly effective at capturing the enormous demands placed on our fighting men and women and their splintered families back home. And it offers deeper condemnation of those leaders who would dispatch them for frivolous and fraudulent purposes.