A War (4 stars)

A War

Thought-provoking military drama from Danish director Tobias Lindholm

Anyone that’s followed Danish drama recently can’t fail to be impressed by Tobias Lindholm. One of the screenwriters behind TV’s political maelstrom Borgen, he was also the co-scribe of Thomas Vinterberg’s child abuse-themed nail-biter The Hunt. Now he returns with A War (Krigen), his third film as director, following R and the sensational high-seas tale A Hijacking. As so often with his work, Lindholm presents a fascinating moral maze for audiences and characters alike to navigate.

In this film of two halves, the first set in Afghanistan, Lindholm’s regular lead Pilou Asbæk plays Claus, a well-respected commander of a unit of Danish soldiers. When his men come under attack – viscerally shown in a thunderous sequence – he’s forced to make a split-second decision that ultimately saves his troops. This ‘decision’ is, in reality, a lie – one that leads to the accidental death of 11 civilians in a house bombed on the false intel he provides.

It’s a horrendous act, albeit committed with the best of intentions, one which leads Claus to return to Denmark for the film’s second half, where he faces court martial (which offers a considerable visual contrast, all bland wood-panel interiors after the bleached-out deserts of the Middle East). Returning to the bosom of his family – his wife Maria (Tuva Novotny) and their three children – he must deal with another dilemma: lie to the prosecutors about his actions, or face time in prison.

Asbæk is superb in the lead, whether shouting orders under fire, or staring into the metaphysical abyss as he smokes in his backyard; you can see the conflict, guilt and regret etched into his face. For his part, Lindholm encourages audience empathy, putting us in the dock alongside Claus. This is a real ‘What would you do?’ movie, the sort you’ll be turning over in your mind for days after, and the result is first-rate.

Limited release from Fri 8 Jan.

A War

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • Denmark
  • 1h 55min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Tobias Lindholm
  • Cast: Pilou Asbaek, Tuva Novotny, Søren Malling
  • UK release: 8 January 2016

Claus (Asbaek) is the commander of a unit of Danish soldiers in Afghanistan; when his unit comes under fire, he is forced to make a split-second decision which will have fateful consequences. A first-rate moral tale from Borgen writer Lindholm, with superb work from Asbaek as the troubled soldier.