Navigating A Minefield Of Moral Quandaries And Consequences In 'A War' A War is a contender for the best foreign film Oscar. It's about a soldier in Afghanistan placed in an impossible situation, and NPR film critic Bob Mondello says it brings the big questions home.
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Navigating A Minefield Of Moral Quandaries And Consequences In 'A War'

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Navigating A Minefield Of Moral Quandaries And Consequences In 'A War'

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Navigating A Minefield Of Moral Quandaries And Consequences In 'A War'

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

War movies often build to a big battlefield confrontation. The new movie "A War" is a little different. Critic Bob Mondello says this foreign film Oscar nominee from Denmark does begin as a battlefield epic, but it ends as a courtroom drama.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Afghanistan, deep in Taliban territory, a Danish patrol is walking single file across a field, each man stepping where the previous man stepped - alas, to no avail.

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MONDELLO: Back at headquarters, Claus, the patrol's young commanding officer, decides he'll not send his men out again without being there himself. He's a decent man - a father, a caring officer, proud of the role his soldiers play in protecting civilians. Though, this war turns such considerations on their heads. Help a family, and the Taliban targets that family, which is how Claus later finds himself with his squad in an ambush.

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MONDELLO: One of his men is hit and will die without assistance. The rest are pinned down, unable to tell where shots are coming from. Claus calls in an airstrike on a nearby compound. And it turns out he's right, that's where the shots were coming from. His actions save his men.

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MONDELLO: But a few days later, he's called in for an inquiry. There were civilians in the compound, too. He's being sent back to his wife and kids in Copenhagen, charged with war crimes. And the complications are just beginning.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A WAR")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (As character, speaking Danish).

MONDELLO: The first half of the film was shot in Turkey, and nearly all the roles in that war-zone setting were cast with nonactors - Afghan refugees, Danish ex-soldiers - which helped filmmaker Tobias Lindholm achieve a documentary-like realism there. In the home scenes and the courtroom, he relies more on his leading man, Pilou Asbaek, who has a solemn, brooding manner that's likely to serve him well in a substantial role he's landed in the coming season of "Game Of Thrones." Filmmaker Lindholm has said in interviews that just as films about the Vietnam War gave the American public a way to process a national trauma, he's hoping his film can do that for a Danish public that has been sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan for much of the last decade-and-a-half. And "A War" is freighted with many of the same moral quandaries, impossible choices, terrible consequences. In Afghanistan, Claus's soldiers are tense, their foothold insecure, the civilians they're protecting anxious. He returns to find his home tense, his children insecure, his wife anxious. If what he did in the war zone to save his men was criminal, what should he do at home? In the courtroom, with his attorney staring down the prosecutor -

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A WAR")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character, speaking Danish).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (As character, speaking Danish).

MONDELLO: The battle lines seem so clear. In his own mind, they're less clear. What do you do when there's no right move? "A War" brings that question home. I'm Bob Mondello.

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