Film: A War (2015)
Stars: Pilou Asbaek, Soren Malling, Dar Salim, Tuva Novotny
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Foreign Language Film-Denmark)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars
(Spoilers Ahead) The film might initially come across as a misnomer, as it starts with one of those cinematic mainstays, the war film. The movie alternates with Commander Claus Pedersen (Asbaek), who is seen in war, but also looking back at his wife Maria (Novotny), who is struggling with domestic life, particularly with her children who are acting out in a variety of ways while missing their father. While on duty, Commander Pedersen is forced to make a snap decision to perform an airstrike without enough intel, in hopes of saving his men, and in the process eleven civilians are killed, for which he is brought before the courts, since what he technically did was a war crime. The back half of the film is when this turns into a legal drama, with us wondering whether Commander Pedersen will get to return to his home, or be forced in disgrace to go to jail, causing incredible strife on his family.
The film has such potential, it's a pity it gets lost in the predictable nature of the ending and of the ways the legal drama unfolds. After all-it's a complicated question of what he should have done here-does he risk his men's lives by not making the airstrike, or does he take the shot while hoping that it doesn't end badly, which of course it does? "War is hell," is a tried-and-true line of thinking for military dramas, but the more complicated "war has no right answers" is one that has become increasingly popular, most notably in the best moments of American Sniper a few years back. If that had remained the focus, perhaps with Commander Pedersen found guilty but us questioning the morality of that decision, or even keeping that the sole focus rather than interjecting an easy out (one of his fellow army men lie to save him, giving him a not guilty verdict), it would have made for a spectacular movie, perhaps one that would have risen above its Law & Order style roots.
But it doesn't-the film is too interested in side projects to really make up for being solely predictable. We get the family drama strife, but it just keeps getting underlined, over and over again, and we get too little of the effect the personal turmoil to, say, the men around Commander Pedersen seeing their leader going down for a crime he did commit, but to save their lives. We see the district attorney painted as a hateful woman, rather than someone who also might see the reality of this situation, but also knows that eleven people died as a result of Commander Pedersen's actions. There is too much pressure put on the fact that we need to save Pedersen and less on the fact that there's a reason a law like this exists, and that even in a situation with no right answers, it's a bit of a copout to give us a simple withdrawal from the debate by having someone perjure himself to give the writers a way out of a sticky, interesting situation. Films, unlike television, need to be graded more on the way they reach their ending than anything else-A War never satisfies even if it poses some fascinating questions.
Those are my thoughts-do you agree that the legal drama just feels tired at the movies now, or do you think there's still a place for it? What are your thoughts on A War, and whether it deserved this nomination? Share below!