A War (Magnolia Pictures, R)

What’s really remarkable about this kind of film is that, even though most people will like it, almost no one will come out of it with the same opinion.

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Tobias Lindholm’s best-known work in the States might be The Hunt, which he co-wrote with prominent Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg, who directed. It’s certainly the only film I’ve seen that had his input. Considering how interested I am in Danish film and how much I loved A War, I think it’s time for me to dig into the rest of Lindholm’s filmography.

Pilou Asbæk plays Claus Pedersen, a commander of a group of soldiers in Afghanistan whose mission it is to make peace with civilians and form a resistance against the Taliban. The circumstances these men find themselves in, the detailed depictions of their militaristic endeavors, and the struggle of Pedersen’s wife, Maria (Tuva Novotny), and their children back home comprise a compelling story and statement about the condition of the Middle Eastern conflict.

The film balances world and character building, suspense, and plot-forwarding masterfully. In one scene, Pedersen and his men take strategic positions just to hear out a frightened local seeking protection from the Taliban. They secure the area, frisk the entire family, and keep their guns pointed in every direction, even at a nearby donkey. While setting up an engaging conflict, the sequence also spells out the state of terror and intimidation felt by Afghani locals, the suspicion and brutal stance that soldiers are forced to face to protect themselves, and the futility of trying to find diplomatic relations between the two sides, despite it being their primary mission. It paints the efforts in Afghanistan as being in a very hopeless state, something undoubtedly felt by most audiences who will watch it, especially in the U.S.

In terms of that relatability, the challenges faced by Maria are likely to resonate. Her single-motherhood isn’t overly dramatized, nor undersold. Her exhaustion and yearning to regain companionship are established by everyday obstacles like wrangling kids and making dinner, things which are much easier in a co-parenting situation. It’s equally important to the challenges faced by Claus because it gives incredible weight to the moral questions that will be posed as the films starts to head towards its conclusion.

What’s really remarkable about this kind of film is that, even though most people will like it, almost no one will come out of it with the same opinion. As hard decisions have to be made on the war front, Claus finds himself confronting his own conscience as well as other, external pressures. His sense of moral duty comes into conflict with his obligations and loyalties, leading to situations that will hopefully lead to intense audience discussion once the movie ends. The importance of solidarity, honesty, and family are all weighed on separate scales, and it’s ultimately up to us to decide which has more weight.

Some movies exist for the purposes of pure enjoyment, and I definitely like those kinds of movies. A War certainly functions that way on one level, but it’s also elevated by a stark and original view of the war in the Middle East and the open-ended ethical questions it wants us to consider. | Nic Champion

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