A War presents the war in Afghanistan from an unaccustomed perspective for Americans - it follows a company of Danish soldiers deployed as part of the NATO force. This is the first war Danish soldiers have fought in since WWII, and they are wary and conscientious. When one of the Danish soldiers is killed by an IED, their commander Claus has to remind his men in a briefing that they are doing an important job protecting civilians in the country. These words will come back to haunt him. As Claus and his men try to navigate minefields and protect civilian families from the Taliban, the film switches back to Denmark to show Claus's wife struggling to bring up their three children with an absent father. Only late at night does Claus have time to call his wife on a satellite phone, too late for the kids who have gone to bed.
Carrying this double weight of responsibility on his shoulders - looking after his troops and caring for his family - Claus finds himself and his men pinned down in a compound by the Taliban, and calls in an airstrike on a compound from where he thinks the Taliban is shooting at them. But civilians are killed, and he is sent home to face trial for negligently causing their deaths. Director Tobias Lindholm takes a quietly reflective approach to his subject matter, and does not take sides. He portrays the prosecutors genuinely trying to get at the truth, while Claus and his men struggle to explain in a Danish law court what it is like making life and death decisions when you are taking fire and some of your comrades are already injured and needing help.
Q&A with Director Tobias Lindholm on February 8th
Lindholm shot the film in Turkey using mostly former Danish soldiers - only two of his characters were played by professional actors - and his portrayal of the war in the arid landscapes of Afghanistan rings true. By not setting up anyone as a hero or an outright villain he forces the audience to make up their own minds about the allegations of committing a war crime. And by muting the tone of the film - there is barely any music throughout - he conveys the sense of numbness that many soldiers feel when they get back from a war they barely understood.