The first two-thirds of this story try (and to a large extent succeed) in putting the viewer very definitely in a war, or at least our protagonists’ portion of a war. It’s dangerous, loud, confusing – we don’t know who we can trust, who’s being used, how safe it is to put one foot in front of another. There’s a real sense of the soldiers being ordinary guys who didn’t expect it to be quite like this when they signed up. The fact that occasional scenes from the family at home are interspersed underlines this, and also raise tensions of a different, more personal kind.
Then something happens which drags us back to Denmark, where things are calmer but no less fraught. The film becomes a courtroom drama (though there is little actual drama, it’s all very matter of fact) – and a total contrast to the previous hour and a bit. We’re asked to reflect in calmness on actions taken under extreme pressure, and forced to reach a conclusion.
I was with this almost all the way to the end, struggling to understand how I felt about what I had experienced along with the soldiers. I say almost to the end, because the conclusion (not the final scene, but the conclusion to the courtroom section) seemed to want to tie everything up neatly. Yet the film had shown us very definitely that things aren’t perhaps so clear-cut, and I can’t help but feel it might have been better left without a definite conclusion. That we should have been left to make up our own minds.
Nevertheless, the subject matter makes good debate for the Oscar season.