Perhaps the best film yet set against the mess of the ongoing Middle Eastern wars, Tobias Lindholm’s latest is a scrupulous, unglamorized examination of battlefield decision-making — and its potentially devastating impacts, both there and back home.
While American films have tended either toward the polemical or the heroic, the Danish Lindholm (A Hijacking) aspires to a documentary-like naturalism, casting war vets as his soldiers and some actual Taliban as the locals they encounter. The Afghan scenes, filmed in Turkey, depict soldiers under great strain attempting to do what’s right: to protect villagers from terrorists while also worrying that those villagers might be terrorists.
Pilou Asbæk stars as Pedersen, an army commander struggling to keep the peace; back home, meanwhile, we meet his wife, Maria (Tuva Novotny), who of course is struggling herself with kids shaken by their father’s absence. Pinned down under fire and fearing he might lose a wounded soldier, Pedersen calls for an airstrike against a target he hasn’t fully vetted as non-civilian; in the film’s second half, he gets court-martialed for this, and the ensuing military trial is as tense as the scenes of soldiering.
Always compelling, A War demands that viewers engage with the questions your 13 Hours or American Sniper fears to take on, weighing the moral costs of “our” lives versus “theirs,” asking what toll the choices that soldiers face exact upon them, and taking a hard look at the impossibility of justice in many cases of civilian casualties. Lindholm manages all this without denying us the pleasures of suspenseful storytelling, and without denying any character his or her due empathy.
Written and directed by Tobias Lindholm
Opens February 12, Landmark Sunshine