A War

 

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A challenging moral issue lies at the heart of this new drama from Denmark’s Tobias Lindholm.

 

I cannot recommend too highly this latest feature by the Danish writer/director Tobias Lindholm who proved his talent most potently to me in 2013 when we saw his impressive drama A Hijacking. That work reached us a few months ahead of another tale of modern-day pirates seizing a ship at sea, Captain Phillips, but it was Lindholm who got in first. The position initially seems to have been reversed in the case of A War since, for about half of its running time, the film offers effective but hardly novel material with the audience being invited to share the experiences of soldiers operating in conditions where violence can flare up at any moment, be it an attack by the enemy or a situation that might prove to be an ambush.
 
Although the generic title suggests a comment on all wars, Lindholm’s film is set in Afghanistan with the Taliban as the unseen enemy that can so easily prove lethal, but even so the naturalistic style and the tension in this very well-acted piece bring to mind Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008). To the extent that this results in A War lacking the freshness of A Hijacking (and that despite sharing with it scenes of contrast back in Denmark that are admirably everyday and persuasive), the first half of A War can seem to be dealing in material which, well-judged though the film is, seems over-familiar.
  

 A War 

 

But then, quite unexpectedly, the film goes off in a different direction altogether, something for which the first half is a necessary preparation but which turns A War into a movie that is as distinctive as it is distinguished. Some reviewers may be tempted to reveal the film’s ultimate subject-matter, but I am convinced that audiences will be better off if taken by surprise. What I can safely say is that Lindholm handles a moral issue arising out of war in a way that confronts the audience. Indeed he forces them to realise that their own attitude to the situation revealed is itself conflicted. Dramas that manage to involve viewers to the extent that they recognise how torn their own emotions are form a very rare breed. The too-little known Ealing drama The Divided Heart (1954) is one of them and this is another. A War is likely to be among the best films released here in 2016.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Pilou Asbæk, Tuva Novotny, Søren Malling, Charlotte Munck, Dar Salim.

 

Dir and Screenplay Tobias Lindholm, Pro René Ezra and Tomas Radoor, Ph Magnus Nordenhof Jønck, Pro Des Thomas Greve, Ed Adam Nielsen, Music Sune Rose Wagner, Costumes Louize Nissen.

 

Nordisk Film Production A/S/Det Danske Filminstitut/StudioCanal etc.-StudioCanal Limited.
115 mins. Denmark/Norway/France/USA. 2015. Rel: 8 January 2016. Cert. 15.