A War Movie Review
Why does every movie about the war in Afghanistan make you feel like you’ve already seen it before? Save for a few exceptions, this long-running war has resulted in plenty of dramatic adaptations but few that really stand out from the pack, and the Oscar-nominated Danish drama A War is no different. Hell, even its title is as generic as they come.
The overriding issue may be that since 9/11, audiences worldwide have grown more jaded toward more, more accepting of the moral grayness or simply more attune to the fact that shit happens in war. Look back at movies about World War II or Vietnam and you have stories about draftees who are thrust into horrific circumstances, haunted by hundreds or thousands of deaths. These days, soldiers still face horrifying circumstances, but they’re generally better trained, face better odds of survival and in some way or another chose to be there.
Simply put, it seems there is less to latch onto from a cinematic perspective.
Or, even more simply, filmmakers have failed to bring to life the horrors of modern warfare.
Regardless, A War is just one of the many, a perfectly fine modern war tale about a unit commander who is forced to make a split-section decision that results in the deaths of several civilians, including children. Pilou Asbæk, who looks eerily like Ewan McGregor, delivers a solid performance, and writer/director portrays the war and its after effects well enough.
But in the end, there’s little to latch onto. The second half of the film focuses on a trial in which the commander stands accused of ordering an airstrike on civilians without following the possible procedures, but the stakes seem so small, the outcome insignificant. It’s not that the question posed isn’t a powerful one—it’s that Lindholm fails to develop his lead character well enough to make us care about what happens to him, or offers enough conflicting details to make us choose sides. The case is meant to be controversial but it doesn’t feel like one.
A War is well made, but that’s not enough to save it from being just another movie about the war in Afghanistan.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.