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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
In a Better World [DVD]
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on 27 April 2017
A sensitive portrayal of the things which rock our world and what is too often hidden. Brilliantly acted especially the child performers. A must for Persbrandt fans too
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on 19 July 2017
Another great film by Susan Bier. beautiful images and great acting. The film for me is about male vilence.
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on 12 March 2017
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on 27 September 2017
Excellent, well worth watching.
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on 18 August 2011
Why are Scandinavians so hell-bent on persuading us their societies are miserable and dysfunctional? When's someone going to put out a Scandi Rom-Com? (You will get precisely four Google hits should you search for "Danish Rom-Com" - all refer to the same film, Italian for Beginners - apparently very good, but having the misfortune to be released the week of 9/11.)

Well, if a Danish film entitled In A Better World fills you with expectation the drought might finally have broken, save your money. It is, instead, a pretty harrowing drama, beautifully staged and acted, as close in tone as I can think to Swedish Romantic-Horror Let Let The Right One In. Which is to say, grim.

The opening titles are projected downward onto a scene of sandy African hinterland cropped in such a way that it might be a close up of a banana. From there we open on a painterly tableau: a sweeping African landscape vaulted over by a heaving, boiling sky. The locale of the film switches between here and autumnal, coastal Denmark, between which Anton, a field doctor divides his time.

We also have parallel stories: Elias, Anton's son, is bullied at school. His home is also fractured: not only because Anton spends most of his time in an African refugee camp, but also because Anton's marriage is falling apart.

Christian is a new boy in Elias' school, transplanted out of a wealthy London boarding school following his mother's death from cancer. We first meet Christian as he flawlessly, but coldly, delivers his mother's eulogy over her coffin. In an early playground confrontation he comes to Elias' aid and reveals himself as a fearless child with a destructive streak. Elias - quite the opposite - can't believe his luck to have found a protector and latches onto him like a remora. Christian is a passable shark.

Meantime, Anton continent-hops and deals with his own sort of bullying: there are unpleasant goings on in the refugee camp, courtesy of a sadistic local war lord, who has been creating most of the trauma patients in Anton's clinic. Anton has a principled, but unworldly, commitment to the hypocratic oath, even if that means healing the war lord when he suffers an infected wound. Anton is bullied also back in Denmark, where he is as much of an outsider as he is in Africa: he's Swede.

So, nicely set up: we have fractures and bifurcations everywhere you look: between Denmark and Africa; between husband and wife; between Anton's theory and the boys' practice. But all under the same, brooding sky - a visual repeatedly imposed on the screenplay: for all the localised fractures everything is part of a continuum: everything is under the sun. Well, clouds, at any rate.

The drama is very tightly worked and the pacing is perfect: whenever the pot nears the boil, we cut between Denmark and Africa so as to delay gratification, and the suspense keeps growing. Michael Persbrandt plays the Anton well, with fittingly piecing blue eyes. The children leads are terrific too: Markus Rygaard captures the eager but guileless Elias and William Johnk Nielsen is excellently cast as the scowling Christian.

As the premise implies, events set a course for tragedy and make all haste getting there: the family bonds in each family have worked themselves loose enough to be unable to avert disaster. This, I think, is Susanne Bier's industry: to investigate how the western veneer of settled social organisation (perfectly exemplified by the social democrat Scandinavians) doesn't need much of a scratch to come apart.

Anton's moment of revelation comes as his war lord, healed, shows no sign of remorse or gratitude and he realises there is a limit to philosophical theorising in the face of a nasty, brutish and short life. I doubt such a credulous or idealistic European would last long in that sort of environment in real life, but as a narrative device it works well.

Bier's conclusion, which I won't spoil, struck me as a little pat, but in the round this is a clever, tense, and well produced drama.

Olly Buxton
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 August 2011
This skilfully shot, well-acted and tightly scripted Danish film deserves its Oscar. It will appeal to people of all ages and nationalities. You can sit back and view it simply as a "good yarn" about a couple of barely teenage boys who slip into delinquency for moral reasons, following a warped logic which may stem from unintentional neglect by their well-meaning, hardworking middle-class parents. If you wish, you can ponder the film's messages on a deeper level, focusing on the issues which strike a chord with your own concerns. In fact, the last thing this film does is preach. Instead, it highlights the complexity of morality.

Is Anton, the idealistic, pacifist surgeon to be admired for devoting his working life to caring for people in what looks like a poverty-stricken refugee camp somewhere in Africa, or is he selfishly avoiding his guilt over his estranged wife and neglecting his two young sons back in Denmark in the process? Is he right to agree to treat the local villain when his black colleagues wish to leave the man to rot? Has he failed morally when he is eventually driven to give way to righteous anger? Is there one moral standard for a brutal, impoverished developing country and another for liberal, affluent Denmark? Is Anton hopelessly naive to insist that "violence only begats violence" to the extent that he literally "turns the other cheek" when an aggressive man punches him in front of his two sons, one of whom is Elias, with his inaptly named friend Christian a sceptical observer?

Christian's fierce sense of justice - his determination neither to be bullied, nor to let a bully go unpunished - seems more realistic, but he takes it too far. To what extent can his behaviour be condoned as a reaction against grief over his mother's death, and his father's inability to communicate honestly with him? How much more harshly would Christian and his tag-along sidekick Elias be punished for their attempts to take justice into their own hands if they were working class kids?

I agree that the ending is a little trite, and for that reason have withheld a star, perhaps unfairly since you could argue that a predictably gloomy Scandinavian ending could "turn off" more viewers than it satisfies. The plot, often shocking and sad, is saved from grimness by frequent touches of humour. After Anton's rather unwise confrontation of a bully in his workshop, to try to demonstrate to the boys how words win out over physical violence, Christian astutely observes, "But he didn't look as if he thought he's lost!" Later, when the two boys construct a potentially lethal bomb, they choose to test it out on the school project over which they have laboured for days. Their excitement over the explosion completely overrides any concerns about the waste of their work, or how they will explain its disappearance. The earnest ineffectiveness of the teachers at the boy's school is also entertaining.

There are moments of pathos, say in Anton's attempts to build bridges with the wife who loves him but cannot accept his past infidelity, or in Christian's father's halting attempts to speak of his complex emotions over the painful death of a wife to whom he may not have been faithful.

I recommend this film as a gripping and thought-provoking human drama - a popular film which stimulates you to work out your own message.
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Danish director Susanne Bier's 2010 Oscar-winner is a finely written and intelligently scripted piece of work, full of superb acting especially from the two children as main characters. Its underlying theme is social violence in different forms and the moral question of how to respond to it most effectively. The film's title in the original Danish translates as `The Revenge'.

Mikael Persbrandt plays Anton, a Swedish surgeon vocationally devoted to charity work in a Sudanese refugee camp whose occasional visits to his middle-class Danish home are punctuated by marital difficulties with wife Marianne (a superb Trine Dyrholm), and trying to be a role model to his two young sons. The elder son Elias (played by the excellent and promising young Markus Rygaard) is bullied at school because he's Swedish - a recurrent theme in other Danish films over the years so presumably a persistent if minor social problem in Denmark - and befriended and protected by another boy, Christian, who has a strong sense of righteous moral justice but harbours a worryingly violent streak bordering on the psychotic.

Only-child Christian has recently moved to the locality from London with his bereaved father, Claus (played in an understated performance by Ulrich Thomsen). Christian's mother died of cancer following a long degenerative illness and although both father and son seem to be coping well on the surface deeper wounds lie beneath, to be uncovered as the story unfolds.

The film contrasts differing responses to confronting violence, by the idealistic and mature Anton who essentially tries to live by a `Turn the other cheek' attitude of moral superiority; with the visceral, clear certainties of the vengeful young Christian, and the consequences for those around them as the inevitable results of their actions develop. In parallel, a civilized, well-ordered modern European society like Denmark ruled by law and social contract are contrasted with the wild, dangerous chaos of parts of the world where brutal warlord gang violence is, de facto, the local law-and-order. The film demonstrates Anton's western moral principles are doomed to fail in this environment and that a harder line of `natural justice' as understood by the local culture is the only thing which is going to work.

The editing is first-rate, with not a superfluous line of dialog or unnecessary scene. The only criticism of the film with merit might be that the denouement is perhaps too trite, the happy-ending-of-sorts where everything is resolved not entirely convincing. However, this is a small criticism in an excellent piece of work and if you like serious, thoughtful non-Hollywood films don't be put off by the Danish dialog: see it.
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on 11 February 2012
Excellent film. Well acted. Beautifully filmed. Shows the contrast between a nordic society and its values and an african society where the values have broken down thanks to tribal warfare. Well worth seeing. Only sorry it had such a short run being released. Winner of Oscar and Golden Globe award 2011 for Best Foreign Film in Cannes
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 March 2012
I found this a quietly riveting film with some especially sterling acting. An air of mystery surrounded its soundtrack and direction and I found the bond between the two young boys tenable and touching.

Whilst the African scenario is interesting, it takes second billing for me. The elements surrounding family trust and time and love given was fascinating and well done. Bullying, in several forms, whether brutal and un-policed, as in Africa, or in a Scandinavian school or within society itself and its repercussions thereafter were explored well and worked nicely.

I cannot readily compare it to any film I know of; that is refreshing in itself and had me hooked from start to end. In A Better World can be enjoyed and appreciated by a wide audience and not just those of us who are into World Cinema.
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on 14 July 2012
Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a doctor at an African refugee camp, Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) is a businessman whose wife has just died of cancer. Their worlds collide through their sons, Anton's son is Elias (Markus Rygaard) and Claus's son is Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen).

Christian starts a new school, and befriends Elias who is often bullied. Christian is full of anger and unresolved grief over the loss of his mother, and naturally takes it out on his father. Seeing Elias being bullied, Christian channels his anger into persuading Elias that the only true of course of action is revenge. Anton has separated from his wife, and when he is not working in Africa he looks after his children. Anton is involved in a very different form of bullying, not just in Africa but at home where he is involved in a petty squabble between his younger son and another boy and his father Lars (Kim Bodnia). Anton sets an example to his children through nonviolent confrontation, but Elias doesn't see it this way and decides on a different route of action with Christian taking the lead.

Anton and Claus lead extremely busy lives, to the detriment of their relationship with their sons. They have their own sense of loss and regret, both seemingly failing as parents and forced to watch their sons take matters into their own hands. There's a fine balance in the film between characters who act with cruelty and those who act with kindness, and which poses moral choices for those who fall somewhere in-between.

The acting from everyone is excellent, especially by the stoic Mikael Persbrandt and William Jøhnk Nielsen. The direction from Susanne Bier is good, but the film is let down by the predictability of the parallel stories. The African story was contrived and felt almost like a caricature, the film could've worked just as well set in Denmark. Everything worked just a bit too seamlessly, I expected messier outcomes before the inevitable reconciliation's. `In a Better World' is an examination of fatherhood, masculinity and justice. I left the film thinking about the manipulative plot more than the moral issues it raises.

Rating 7/10
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