Review: ‘A War’ is a Deserving Oscar Nominee

Benji Dunaief ‘19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

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Pilou Asbaek, Soren Malling, and Dar Salim in A War. Photo Credit: Nordisk Film.

A War is the latest deep, realistic, emotional journey from Danish director Tobias Lindholm. Lindholm is known for his gritty, psychological dramas such as A Hijacking (2012), a film that is often referred to as the psychological version of Captain Phillips, and A War remains faithful to the same style. A nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Academy Awards, A War follows a Danish soldier in Afghanistan after he makes a decision that has grave consequences for him and his family back home. While the film’s title suggests a singular conflict, there are in fact two wars waged – one physical and one psychological –exploring the intense themes of loyalty, justice, and truth.

The first half of the film focuses on the life of the Danish soldier Commander Claus Michael Pedersen (Pilou Asbaek) in Afghanistan and simultaneously on the lives of his wife, Maria (Tuva Novotny), and three children in Denmark. Lindholm juxtaposes Pedersen’s life with his family’s using some smart editing techniques, highlighting the family’s disconnected longing for each other. However, most of the first half is dedicated to developing Pedersen’s character and morals during his time in Afghanistan. The second half of the film centers on events in Denmark, after Pedersen makes his grave decision and the deep psychological and ethical dilemmas that follow. Pedersen leaves the battlefield only to find himself in an equally treacherous battle between guilt and truth.

Pilou Asbaek in A War. Photo Credit: Nordisk Film.

However, what really makes A War stand out is its documentary style and tone. Lindholm’s choice to film in the desolate unsaturated Afghan desert and drab Denmark suburbia and to use mostly handheld shots make the film seem incredibly stark and realistic. It also provides a nice change of pace from recent oversaturated, surreal Hollywood blockbusters. While many big-budget productions today go through color correction, set design, and make up processes that render their films as natural as Chick McNuggets, A War isn’t afraid to show it’s true colors.

Complimenting the raw look and filmmaking techniques of A War is equally raw acting. The film marks the fourth time Asbaek has starred in a Lindholm film, and their tenured work has definitely paid off- Asbaek delivers an impressively candid and chilling performance. Films as emotionally charged as A War present actors with opportunities to overact, but Asbaek manages to overcome these urges with ease, forging the restrained, multi-dimensional Commander Pedersen, complete with a thousand-yard stare. The rest of the cast members aren’t given nearly as much screen time as Asbaek, but they all deliver equally candid performances. At times, it’s easy to forget that it’s a movie and that the people in it are professional actors. That’s good filmmaking.

Pilou Asbaek in A War. Photo Credit: Nordisk Film.

A War is rare and successful combination of directing, cinematography, acting, and writing. It’s a gritty, serious, honest film that isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions. Watch for this film on Oscar Sunday, February 28th, because it just might have what it takes to bring home the prize.

Overall Grade: A

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