Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Susanne Bier
Stars: Mikael Persbrandt Marcus Rygaard, Trine Dyrholm, William Johnk Nielsen, Ulrich Thomsen.
In A Better World is the new film from Susanne Bier (After The Wedding, Brothers), and the title proves to be nicely ironic. This superb Danish drama about violence, and the unexpected consequences of an act of retaliation was a deserved winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. This is a richly layered and powerful and provocative meditation on violence and its causes, and it delivers a strong moral message.
Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a dedicated doctor working at a refugee camp in Africa, and who sees on a daily basis the ravages of disease, starvation and the effects of the brutal warlords who rule over the territory. One day he is forced to wrestle with his conscience when he is asked to operate on one of these warlords who is seriously injured. When he returns home for a brief holiday and to spend time with his young son Elias (Marcus Rygaard) and estranged wife Marianne (Trine Dyrholm) he expects to have a break from the horrors of war and bloodshed.
But Elias is being bullied at school. It is only the intervention of Christian (William Johnk Nielsen), the new boy at school, that saves him. Christian and his father (Ulrich Thomsen) have recently arrived from London, and he finds it difficult to adjust. Christian is still bitter at the recent death of his mother from cancer, but he is also something of a borderline psychopath full of hostility and anger at the world. But when the two boys see Anton back down from a nasty confrontation they misinterpret his stoic attitude as cowardice. They decide to take matters into their own hands, with unforseen consequences.
In A Better World tackles some serious themes and ethical dilemmas without becoming too preachy or didactic. Bier has co-written the film in collaboration with her usual partner Thomas Anders Jensen, and its intelligent exploration of violence versus passive acceptance rings true.
The film draws most of its emotional power from its exploration of the strong bond of friendship that develops between the two boys. But the film also offers an examination of complex and troubled father-son relationships as well as a look at the causes of violence in contemporary society. The two young boys make their film debuts here, and they are both excellent and deliver very natural performances. Persbrandt is also strong as the doctor with a conscience who finds his values shaken by events both at home and abroad.
The film has been beautifully photographed by Bier’s regular cinematographer Morton Soborg, and it moves between the stark and brutal landscapes of Africa and the calm, picturesque beauty of the Danish locations.