Set during the Afghanistan War, A War (Krigen) explores the haze and confusion of combat. Though it’s assumed from the beginning, the specificity of the war these soldiers are fighting isn’t named until the story returns to Danish soil. The idea here is twofold: in war, we can never quite distinguish the good from the bad—the white hats from the black ones. Second, the conflict that transpires isn’t specific to the war in Afghanistan. If war is hell, then it doesn’t matter which war it is.
But while the intent is purposeful, the execution isn’t entirely successful, and A War looks an awful lot like any movie about the horrors of war: confusing, dusty, and miserable. A War visualizes this by providing close, shaky, hand-held camera work to obscure the conflict and where the protagonists might take refuge. The obvious kicker is that these are not routine American soldiers but Danish one. Yet, we come to learn little of their individual lives, save for our main character, Pilou (Claus Michael Pedersen). He is a good dude trying to do right by his fellow soldiers and make it home to his wife and two daughters. How he accomplishes that provides the movie’s drama, which is contained mainly in a courtroom in Copenhagen. Only in the 21st century could conflict play out more interestingly in a courtroom rather than a battlefield.
A War is a movie designed to question the very nature and legality of combat and the emotional weight it can bring. However, the movie’s style hinders any ability to feel that weight as it remains close, too close, to the Danish soldiers. We are aware that there are victims on the other side—victims with families, hopes, and dreams—but we are robbed of feeling their pain. The only pain and guilt we feel is that of the survivors.
A War is first fought on the dusty battlefields of Afghanistan, then in the sterile and cool confines of the courtroom. Director Tobias Lindholm, a disciple of the Danish Dogme 95 movement, and cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck shot both similarly, with a documentary flatness that remains disengaged with its subject, regardless of the physical distance from the camera to the subject. The result is imagery that is underwhelming. This is best noted in the film’s closing bland and unspecific image. While this intent may be to rob combat of any kinetic energy, or anything that may appear to be somewhat attractive, the result is a dulling one. If only one image were to stand out in summation of the crisis that Pilou faces, then the movie’s style could elevate the mire of the conflict. Instead, we are left with a routine observation: war is hell.
A War (Krigen) (2015)
Written and Directed by: Tobias Lindholm
Produced by: Rene Ezra & Tomas Radoor
Starring: Pilou Asbæk, Tuva Novotny, Dar Salim, Søren Malling, Charlotte Munck, Alex Høgh Andersen
Magnolia Pictures, Rated R, Running time 115 minutes, Opens February 26, 2016