REVIEW: A War

17 06 2016

A WarTo 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. C2stars

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REVIEW: The Hunt

30 05 2012

Cannes Film Festival

I wasn’t invited to serve on Nanni Moretti’s jury this year, but if I had been, my vote for the Palme D’Or would have gone to Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt” without question or hesitation.  More than any of the twelve competition films I saw, it captivated me from the outset and proceeded to shake me to my core all the way to its jarring ending.  Much like “In a Better World” or “The Class,” this film has the ability to play well in any country and in any language due to the universality of its story.

I quickly forgot I was reading subtitles as I got drawn into the film’s narrative.  Vinterberg’s film, which he also co-wrote with Tobias Lindholm, has echoes of Arthur Miller, one of the biggest compliments I can provide to a piece of writing.  This contemporary “Crucible” follows Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas, a Danish kindergarten teacher, as he must fend off accusations of indecent exposure to a young child and the ensuing social stigmatization.  While Lucas is reserved, Mikkelsen never lets us doubt for a second that his character is an upright man who is merely the victim of a child’s curiosity being spun into something untrue.

And Mikkelsen, rightful and deserving winner of the Best Actor prize at Cannes, keeps our eyes glued to the screen as we watch the harrowing toll of these false charges on his psyche as well as his estranged son.  The story unfolds rather predictably for the first two acts (no thanks to Arthur Miller), but Mikkelsen really goes unhinged in the film’s finale and absolutely kills it.  As the metaphorically hunted of the film’s title, he begins to strike back against those who defiled his reputation based on baseless and circumstantial evidence.

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