As in life, war is never a morally black or white occurrence. Each side fights with the same belief that they are fighting on the righteous side, but which is really the correct side? That is one of the many complicated ideas Tobias Lindholm’s A War presents, but it is left to the audience to choose their own side.
Anyone who has seen one of the many engulfing war epics that have comes out in the last hundred years, or even played a round of Call of Duty, will know how disorienting war can be. Life or death decisions must be made with split-second timing. In A War, director-writer Tobias Lindholm masterfully plays through these situations, offering only perspective and never judgments. Through the lens of his characters, Lindholm plays out an all too likely and potentially common scenario with a soldier forced to make a tough call. Should he protect the people he was sent to protect or preserve his life and the lives of his fellow soldiers?
Seeing both the military life and civilian life, we are able to grasp a better understanding of how both worlds are separate but connected through their own respective battles. In war, identifying the enemy is everything, especially when it relates to your own personal survival. A War creates a tense environment where suspicions and paranoia is a daily battle. We are completely immersed into every situation, feeling the ever-present, yet unverifiable threats. The audience is put in the same difficult situations and are forced to make a hard decision. Whether you would make a different choice from the main character is a moot point because the story is crafted expertly to fully explain their decision-making and understand why the characters felt their actions were necessary. A War proves to be a roller coaster of moral dilemmas as it transitions from a war to a trial, where it tests your sense of “right” and “wrong.”
Sitting through the film will spark a war in your mind. Lines of morality are blurred and a new spectrum of colors make it impossible to see things monochromatically. Every decision comes with its own set of negative consequences that affect others. The film itself is meant as a conversation piece that you as the audience must decipher on your own. The struggles with morality are meant to lead to greater ideas and a deeper look at cross sections between personal responsibility and self-preservation. In this aspect, Lindholm’s A War transcends mere militaristic applications and becomes applicable in other current events in America, such as the state of our law enforcement, but more specifically Black Lives Matter vs Blue Lives Matter.
Should the people who have chosen this line of work be expected to give up their lives for the greater good or are they required to put the needs of possible innocents above their own well-being? This film is meant to start this kind of discussion because only through analyzing the situations and scenarios can you arrive to an answer, or at least acknowledge some level of accountability. In typical Lindholm style, like his films A Hijacking and The Hunt, he places ordinary people in extraordinary, but completely believable situations and watches them make understandable choices that reflect the majority of our responses if put in a similar situation. Our empathy extends to them even when they are viewed as villains as the result of their decisions.
The story is only as compelling as the people who keep it moving forward. Pilou Asbæk and Tuva Novotny are both soldiers in their own respect, trying to keep evil at bay. Their performances keep us connected and engaged to the story while also anchoring them in a relatable reality we can identify with. Much of the tone and subtext rests on their expressions, and that is one of the many battles they win. Along with other Lindholm film veterans, such as Dar Salim and Søren Malling, A War is fully equipped with experienced soldiers to help win its philosophical war against perceived ethics.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★ (8/10 stars)