Tobias Lindholm — writer and director of A Hijacking, writer of The Hunt — back with another emotionally tense exploration of ordinary men under extraordinary pressure in A War (Krigen), Denmark’s official Oscars submission for Best Foreign Language Film and now on the shortlist for a nomination. Claus (Pilou Asbaek: Lucy) commands a company of soldiers in Afghanistan, pushing back against the Taliban but with a frustrating mandate to minimize involvement with the locals, even when they flat-out ask for help. And often, even protecting his own men proves impossible, when a single misstep can set off an IED and turn a routine patrol into a medical emergency. Almost imperceptibly, Lindholm layers on stresses and strains so that, by the time Claus issues an order in the heat of an intense firefight that later comes under question, we are as stunned as he is to be second-guessed. Didn’t he do the right thing? If he didn’t, then what would have been right at that particular moment?
This is a war movie for how we have redefined war in the 21st century, as nervous occupations and guerrilla ambushes, where there is sometimes little distinction between civilians and combatants and there is no clear battlefield; it’s not a political film but one about the impossible situation politics puts soldiers in today. It is one of the more compassionate depictions of how soldiers are impacted by battle that I’ve seen: Claus and his soldiers are not impervious tough guys but are profoundly changed by their experience. And the moral dilemmas they must resolve aren’t only on the battlefield but also at home: Claus is recalled to Denmark to face a military inquiry into his actions, and how he deals with that must also take into account the needs of his family; his wife, Maria (Tuva Novotny: Eat Pray Love), has been holding the fort and coping with their three small children on her own. A War is smartly nuanced about Claus’s quandary, implicitly acknowledging that there is no one set price of integrity, but that something must be paid.