Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A WAR (Krigen, 2015)

The team of writer-director Tobias Lindholm and star Pilou Asbaek resume the war on terror in their follow-up to 2012's Kapringen (A Hijacking). Denmark has been part of the coalition occupying Afghanistan and training anti-Taliban forces since 2001. A Danish officer, Claus (Asbaek) tries to maintain ties with his family at home while dealing with the stresses of war. When his men give first aid to an Afghan child, the girl's family is targeted by the Taliban as collaborators. Claus refuses to shelter the family in the Danish base overnight, promising them that his unit will secure them and their community the following day. The troops arrive to find the family massacred in their beds. Moments later they come under attack themselves. With one man wounded badly in the neck Claus needs to neutralize the threat before a medevac can arrive. He has a rough idea where the fire is coming from, but the rules of engagement require visual confirmation before an air strike can be ordered. Even though he can't see a gun or gunmen, he affirms that he has "PID" and the attackers are blown away. The medevac arrives and the wounded, temporarily mute trooper survives to communicate Don't Look Back style with his buddies from a British hospital.

Claus soon learns that there were 11 civilians in the building that was bombed. His troops carry recording devices, one of which caught him telling his radio man to say he had PID. The recording appears to implicate Claus in a war crime if a panel interprets it -- as would be correct -- to mean the radio man should lie. He's recalled to Denmark for the hearing and a family reunion, his wife urging him to perjure himself to spare himself (and his family) four years in prison. The most he can bring himself to do is fudge his testimony, telling the prosecutor that he can't recall exactly when he got the crucial PID. Fortunately (I suppose), one of his men steps up and commits the necessary perjury, testifying (to the prosecutor's furious dismay) that he provided the PID by seeing a muzzle flash from the doomed building. It's pretty transparent perjury; the prosecutor rightly asks why it never occurred to this soldier to mention this exculpatory detail for months before the trial. But it gives everyone else what they seem to want: an excuse to acquit Claus. Claus, however, doesn't feel particularly excused. Asbaek and Lindholm make us feel his shame at having to be saved by lies without having him express it. There's a laconic quality to Krigen that makes it easy to imagine an American remake directed by Clint Eastwood, especially since it resembles a kind of cross between American Sniper and Sully. While audiences clearly will empathize with Claus, considering his action in Afghanistan perfectly justified -- the shooting stops once the bombs drop, after all -- but that same empathy complicates the conclusion once we understand that our hero doesn't share any sense we have of his vindication. Instead, he's haunted by the sight of his youngest son's bare feet peeping out from under a blanket, mirroring the dead feet of that Afghan boy whose fate he sealed by refusing his family shelter. The rules of engagement may say one thing about his responsibility for lives lost, and public opinion may say something else, but it looks like Claus may be his own harshest judge. His future is left to our imagination, but our ability to imagine it plausibly is a tribute to an actor and auteur who have become a team to watch whenever they get together.

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