Review: A War


Danish drama A War has bypassed cinemas and gone direct to DVD, which is a shame. It’s another example of a really well crafted, intelligent film not getting the chance at a theatrical release.

We all know war is hell, we don’t need movies to tell us that, although we’ve received that message loud and clear in plenty of films. A War drives that message home from a different angle.

The first half of the film is split between two locations. Company commander Claus Michael Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk)  and his men are stationed in Helmand, Afghanistan. During a routine mission, the soldiers are caught in heavy Taliban crossfire. In order to save his men, and in particular a seriously injured soldier, Claus makes a decision to bomb a contained area, not knowing that it will result in the loss of innocent lives.

The other story strand involves Claus’ wife Maria (Tuva Novotny), back in Denmark, who is struggling to raise their three children on her own. These scenes give emotional weight to the second half of the film. Claus returns to Denmark charged with a war crime. The ensuing court case causes a tremendous stress on Claus and Maria, and those around them.

Claus’ only way of being cleared of the crime is to go against his moral beliefs and give false evidence, something his wife is encouraging him to do.

Building drama around a moral dilemma is the very thing that Danish cinema excels at, and it’s handled here with great subtlety and balance. The court scenes in particular are a minefield of clashing ideologies and good intentions.

Lindholm is also an exponent of that other Danish tradition, the post-Dogme shaky-cam syndrome. The action scenes could’ve done with the odd dolly cam or two.

Anyone who is a fan of the TV series Borgen will recognise a few faces here, including the lead Asbæk. He carries the film with a firm stoicism while showing glimpses of the turmoil broiling within.

A War was written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, who in fact wrote the first two seasons of Borgen, and a few Thomas Vinterberg films, including the excellent The Hunt. This is his second film flying solo as director, after A Hijacking. He’s very adept at setting up complex, ambiguous constructs where characters have their principles and integrity challenged.  

This was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar last year, and is the only one of the five films that didn’t get released in Australian cinemas.

At least you have the chance to see it now on the small screen, and I recommend you do.


A War is now out on DVD and online

Richard Leathem @dickiegee