To begin, Tobias Lindholm’s “A War” toggles between a father (Pilou Asbæk’s Claus Michael Pedersen) at war and the mother (Tuva Novotny’s Maria Pedersen) fighting her own battles on the homefront. It’s nothing revolutionary – not unlike an “American Sniper” that takes the time to flesh out the female character left behind with actual scenes, not just crying into the phone.
Then, a controversial incident occurs, and the film abruptly shifts gears into a courtroom drama that puts Claus on the defensive over an action he took in Afghanistan. Perhaps some of this aversion is culturally conditioned, but wow – those Danish courts are some kind of sterile. This fluorescent-lit chamber serves little function other than to recap the film’s first half, just through different perspectives. Most works that delve into legal procedure attempt to make audiences go back and forth on a character. “A War” feels content to tell them what they already know.
Lindholm underplays the entire movie, which works fine when he needs to mine a scene for authentic anguish and desperation. But it more often has the effect of making “A War” play as bland and without any kind of unique vantage point. This is particularly apparent in the film’s wartime scenes, where tension and danger seem almost entirely absent. Claus and his troops act extremely honorably, even helping a villager’s daughter repair burnt arm. Without a palpable threat, however, they feel less like soldiers and more like glorified humanitarians. C /