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A complex drama with a simple title, Danish director Tobias Lindholm's "A War" attempts to cut through the fog of war only to find deeper, impenetrable fog.
The movie one of this year's Academy Award nominees in the Foreign-Language Film category spends its first half with a Danish army unit stationed with NATO forces in Afghanistan. We see the day-to-day routine of these soldiers, whether hunkered down in their base or venturing out to interact with the Afghan people they are supposed to protect.
Lindholm, who wrote and directed, shows us early on the deadly stakes. In the movie's first scene, a patrol ends with the unit's commander, Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbaek), desperately trying to keep one of his men from bleeding to death when his legs are blown off by an IED.
Meanwhile, Claus' wife, Maria (Tuva Novotny), is home with their two children, trying to hold things together while her husband is away at war. They have the occasional call via Skype or satellite phone, but the distance is wearing at them.
The movie pivots on another scene of Pedersen's unit on patrol. They visit a compound of an Afghan family he has vowed to protect from Taliban retaliation. Once they get there, the unit is attacked and one of Claus' men is wounded. As the crossfire intensifies, Claus orders an air strike on the area where he thinks the enemy is shooting from. A missile takes out the perceived threat, and the unit makes it back to base.
Back at base, though, Claus endures a different sort of attack. He's accused of violating the rules of engagement, ordering the air strike too hastily on an area with civilians. He is sent home to Maria and his family to await a trial on war crimes.
Lindholm, as he did with his 2012 drama "A Kidnapping," gives a human face to the issues we usually dismiss with the shorthand phrase "the war on terror." He explores the dangers of combat, the anxiety on the homefront and the high-wire act of command, all within a tight-as-a-drum drama that's half battlefield horror and half courtroom thriller.
With intense and contained performances, particularly by Asbaek and Novotny, "A War" depicts a moral dilemma that is as complicated as it frustrating. The characters, and the viewer, are put in a situation where everyone struggles to make the best choices but find there are no good ones.
A Danish military officer tries to protect his men, and his family, in this quietly intense drama.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, March 11.
Rating • R for language and some war related images.
Running time • 115 minutes; in Danish, with subtitles.