Soldiers, loaded with gear and dressed in camo, depart for a mission in Afghanistan.
They’re to search a village, question the locals about Taliban in the area.
Shots are fired. Soldiers are hurt, others are shaken by the stress.
But they’re in constant contact with their base, and can call in air support in an instant. Which they do, leading to tragic consequences.
“A War” is a vividly-detailed but somewhat generic modern combat film. The sole novelty here is that these utterly professional soldiers are Danish.
They live lives of military tedium, interrupted by sat phone calls home, joshing around the barracks and command decision debates about missions and priorities.
“Winning civilian (hearts and minds),” is mentioned.
But every time they go off-base, whether on an IED (improvised explosive device) hunt, sniper mission or routine search and questioning, tension is high and the fear is palpable.
Tobias Lindholm’s film has documentary realism even in its more melodramatic moments. The family Lieutenant Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk) has left behind is struggling. His oldest son is acting out in school, the wife (Tuva Novotny) is overwhelmed.
He’s lost a man, something everybody in this small unit from a tiny country feels intensely. He doesn’t want to lose another. He’s made decisions about civilians “by the book,” and come to regret those decisions.
His enemy is barbaric and ruthless.
All those factors play into the decision to end a firefight with unseen foes with a blunt instrument — an airstrike. And that’s when the Danish system of military justice steps into the picture.
“A War” is about the consequences of combat, even when the soldiers concerned are committed to a righteous mission — “giving these people a chance” to live a half-normal life without the threat of the murderous Taliban hanging over their heads.
Pedersen’s decisions are life-and-death matters to his men, but ripple all the way back to Denmark, to his family.
It’s wrong to think of these Danes as any different from the many other nations of the coalition still trying to keep the peace in Afghanistan. The processes may differ, but the rules of engagement don’t. Americans, Canadians, Australians and others face similar second-guessing and scrutiny, and no doubt have the same responsibilities back home.
But “A War” is an engrossing reminder that we’re not alone and that others are sharing the nasty, dangerous work of policing the failed states of the world. And that they wrestle with the same command dilemmas and personal vs. professional strains as Americans, with consequences just as deadly, with a need to ethically justify themselves to civilians and rear echelon commanders who don’t really know because they weren’t actually there.
MPAA Rating:R for language and some war related images
Running time: 1:55