Greetings again from the darkness. Distinguishing between right and wrong has always been pretty easy for me, which probably explains my fascination when a good book or movie presents a decision weighted by moral ambiguity … especially one involving life and death. Such is the case with writer/director Tobias Lindholm’s (A Hijacking, 2012) latest, which has been Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Denmark). It’s tension-filled and overflowing with moments that will make you question yourself and your beliefs.
Three parts make up the whole, and each segment brings its own pressures and is presented with its own camera technique. We see Commander Claus Pederson (Pilou Asbaek) leading his squad of Danish soldiers in their Afghan peace-keeping missions. The film bounces between these boots on the ground and Pederson’s wife (Tuva Novotny) back at home in Denmark trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for their three kids. The final act is a tense courtroom drama that will undoubtedly mess with your head.
Mr. Asbaek (“Game of Thrones” and the upcoming Ben-Hur remake) is spell-binding as Commander Pederson. When a land mine causes the loss of one of his men, Pederson proves that he is no desk-jockey, but rather a leader by example. He has a calm presence that inspires his men, though his fearless approach is quietly questioned by some. His in-the-heat-of-the-moment decision with his squad under fire saves the life of an injured soldier, while also resulting in a tragedy that could affect his military career, his family life, and his freedom.
It’s interesting to see how director Lindholm parallels the struggles of Mr. and Mrs. Pederson … albeit in different worlds. The personal and emotional challenges are everywhere and affect everyone. The 3 kids miss their father and struggle in their own ways with their new world. The wife misses her husband and battles to keep the kids in line. The husband misses his wife and their closeness. He also misses the little joys that come with being a (present) father. The soldiers struggle with their orders to patrol a community that doesn’t seem to want them. Even the community struggles with the constant threat of danger.
Commander Pederson’s fateful decision is the focus of the courtroom drama. The dilemma faced by him and his men is truly a no-win situation. His job was to protect his men while also protecting the citizens of the community. It’s a judgment call in the heat of the moment. Either decision would be right and either decision would be wrong. The issue on trial is so complex that it’s very likely the desired verdict would be split among those in the theatre. When Pederson’s wife tells him “It’s not what you did that matters. It’s what you do now.” We certainly understand her, but do we agree? Is it possible to judge a war crime when lives are in immediate danger? What would you do? Unless you’ve been in those boots, it’s impossible to know. The best intentions can be eclipsed by a will to live and quest to save those for whom you are responsible. Is lying ever OK, and if so, what is the fallout? How does it impact you, those you love, and those whose respect you have earned?
This is an exceptionally well made movie with a script that constantly has us questioning our morals. while providing no easy answers.