December 1, 2016 -- This searing war drama examines the futility of war as well as any film since No Man's Land. More than that, it sets up a very uncomfortable moral dilemma that exposes our basic tribal allegiances and the hypocrisy of war tribunals, as well as recent trials of police officers who kill civilians.
This Danish drama is centered on a military company commander Claus M. Pedersen (played by Pilou Asbęk) and his family. Pedersen, shaken by the death of one of his men who is killed by an improvised explosive (IED) decides to lead by example, since his distraught, angry men no longer see any point to the war in Afghanistan. He leads the men on dangerous patrols against an elusive and deadly enemy.
After the death of one of his soldiers, a distraught soldier, Lutfi 'Lasse' Hassan (Dulfi Al-Jabouri) comes to Pedersen, asking to be sent back home. Pedersen can't do that, but he consoles the man and tries to help the best he can.
Later, Pedersen and Hassan are both on patrol together in a village when they come under fire from Taliban forces and Hassan is seriously wounded. Hassan will die without rapid access to medical care. With his forces pinned down by enemy fire and his soldiers unable to pinpoint the location of the enemy forces, Petersen orders an air strike on a nearby house. The battle ends and Hassan is air lifted to a hospital, where he survives.
Pedersen is charged with a war crime after this battle because the air strike he called for killed civilians. Pedersen is charged with not properly determining who was inside the building he gave the order to destroy. Evidence from helmet cameras, audio recordings, and other witnesses bear out the prosecutions case that Pedersen, in the heat of battle, recklessly ordered the destruction of a building inhabited, not by the enemy, but by civilians.
It is pretty obvious from the evidence that Pedersen is guilty as charged, but there are a lot of mitigating circumstances that made me sympathize with Pedersen. The way this is presented in the movie gave me a glimpse into what it must be to be a policeman on trial for killing a civilian. It is my tribe against their tribe, and my tribe is way more important to me.
The other factor in this story that clouds morality issues is the murder of a family in the village by the Taliban just before the battle, and how that family may have been shunned by the other villagers. The murdered family was under the protection of Pedersen's troops, and their murder weighed heavily on Pedersen.
Pedersen wants to tell the truth at the trial, but his wife, Maria (Tuva Novotny) tells him he cannot leave his children for years to grow up without a father. She says he cannot leave his wife and children to fend for themselves for years just to salve his conscience. He lies in an attempt to escape justice. The acting is solid in this film, and the moral dilemmas are merciless and devilishly clever.
Pedersen is a good man, who tries to do the right thing, but how do you do that in a war in a remote hostile country where he and his troops are not welcome, are not trusted and they cannot trust any of the locals? In one scene, the soldiers laugh after killing an enemy motorcyclist carrying a roadside bomb. This film highlights the futility of trying to defend fine points of morality in such a murky combat situation. This film rates a B+.
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