War (2002)

Directed by
Whose war is it anyway?
Reviewed by Simon on 2022-02-27

Rebels in Chechnya are holding a couple of British actors hostage, captured trying to bring Shakespeare to Georgia. Hoping for a substantial ransom, the leader allows the man to return to England to raise the money, promising that if he does not return in two months his fiancé will be killed.

After selling everything he owns he only has a fraction of the £2,000,000 required, but a journalist offers to stake a portion of the ransom if he agrees to take a camera with him and record everything. He has very little luck persuading either the British or Russian authorities to help, but a Russian soldier and former fellow POW reluctantly agrees to take him and the ransom money into Chechnya.

Despite the bombastic poster and the rather blunt title, WAR is not a war film and doesn't feature a lot of action. It is a story of a handful of people caught up in a war that means nothing to them but totally upends their lives regardless. It's a timely reminder that in any conflict most of the participants would probably rather not be there.

I've seen some reviews that accuse the film of being nationalistic or anti-Muslim, which is such a vacuous reading of the film I wonder how those people manage to tie their shoelaces unassisted. Maybe they don't.

The film's blindingly obvious message is that wars are usually started by people who are far removed from the consequences, and that soldiers on both sides probably have more in common with each other than with the leaders commanding them to kill each other. Chief villain Aslan is clearly shown to be an opportunist motivated by the chance to seize wealth and power amidst the chaos, and not at all by religion.

WAR is very clearly an anti-war film, I don't know how it could be clearer, I guess the cynical humour characteristic of much Russian cinema went over the heads of some viewers, perhaps more accustomed to more earnestly militaristic films from the USA.

It is probably the most accomplished of Aleksei Balabanov's films that I've seen, although the poor acting of the British cast members does harm it. If you can look past that it is a well constructed and powerful piece of cinema, whose relevance has apparently not expired. Sadly it was to be Sergey Bodrov Jr's last film.