The film opens with a Danish squad patrolling in the Helmand province. One soldier trips a IED, and despite attempts at resuscitation he dies. This news reaches Claus, the commander of the company whose soldier died. He resolves to patrol on foot with his men on every patrol afterwards. One day, a local arrives at the base begging the Danish soldiers to allow his family to stay in the military compound, as they will be in danger of being killed otherwise for receiving help from the Danish. Claus makes the decision to reject the man.
Meanwhile, back in Denmark, Claus' wife Maria is trying to hold everyday life together, with a husband at war and three children missing their father. The strain their father's absence takes on the family is seen as the burdens of parenting fall on Maria herself.
During a routine mission, Claus' men find the dead bodies of the man's family that they rejected earlier. Without warning, an ambush ensues. Claus, without proper identification, calls in an airstrike on a nearby compound to cover the men's escape. He is charged the next day for killing 11 innocent civilians, and is sent back home. The grave consequences of these accusations shake him and his family, and his defense lawyer asserts that he needs to claim that he had proper identification in order to avoid a prison sentence. Though Claus plans to admit his guilt, Maria angrily admonishes him for not thinking of his children's lives without a father. He ultimately decides to claim that he had proper identification to call for the airstrike.
In court, Claus' men testify and evidence mounts on both sides. Claus' friend from training states that though Claus was the best soldier he knew, Claus was breaking down and losing his ability to lead well. When it comes to Claus himself, he maintains his position and angrily testifies that people who have never been in combat would never understand what it means to make decisions determining who lives and who dies. Surprisingly, a second point-man of Claus testifies that he saw muzzle flashes coming from the compound and thus gave Claus proper identification; though this evidence is dubious when compared to the man's earlier testimony, it is enough proof to convince the judge and sub-committee to acquit Claus. When tucking in his son, Claus notices the way his feet resemble the feet of the local's daughter's corpse in Helmand. The last shot shows Claus sitting outside, looking at the night sky.Pilou Asbæk as Claus Michael Pedersen
Søren Malling as Martin R. Olsen
Dar Salim as Najib Bisma
Tuva Novotny as Maria Pedersen
Charlotte Munck as Lisbeth Danning
Dulfi Al-Jabouri as Lutfi "Lasse" Hassan
The film was produced by Nordisk Film with support from DR TV and received eight million Danish kroner from the Danish Film Institute. Filming took place in Copenhagen, in Konya, Turkey and in Almeria, Spain. It ended in January 2015. With the exception of the main characters, the soldiers are played by actual Danish soldiers who had served in Afghanistan.
A War received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 90% "Certified Fresh" score based on 72 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The site's consensus states: "Tense, intelligent, and refreshingly low-key, A War is part frontline thriller, part courtroom drama -- and eminently effective in both regards." Metacritic reports an 81 out of 100 rating based on 29 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Olly Richards from Empire magazine gave the film four out of five stars saying "It’s a riveting, complex film that asks one simple question: what do you do when there’s no right answer?"., while Clayton Dillard from Slant Magazine gave it a mixed review: two out of four stars saying "Tobias Lindholm stages his claims through clunky dramaturgical scenarios, with the seams exposed at every turn."