In A Better World
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In A Better World

Director: Susanne Bier

Cast: Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen

     
 
Two Danish schoolchildren -- one meek and unassertive, the other angry and vengeance-prone -- forge a friendship with ugly consequences in this cautionary tale from director Susanne Bier. The story opens with physician Anton (Mikael Persbrandt, working abroad in a Kenyan hospital, where he's routinely

Overview

Two Danish schoolchildren -- one meek and unassertive, the other angry and vengeance-prone -- forge a friendship with ugly consequences in this cautionary tale from director Susanne Bier. The story opens with physician Anton (Mikael Persbrandt, working abroad in a Kenyan hospital, where he's routinely treating female victims of a psychotic thug known as Big Man (Evans Muthini). Anton himself suffers from a dysfunctional home life, given his emotional estrangement from his wife (Trine Dyrholm), and his desire to set a positive example for son Elias (Markus Rygaard) -- the physician longs to mend both relationships but finds this difficult given his frequent absenteeism. Meanwhile, another family suffers from equally grave issues: Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) and his son, Christian (William Jøhnk Juels Nielsen), move from London back to their home country of Denmark; Claus is still reeling from his late wife's recent death from cancer, and father and son find it more and more difficult to connect with another. But Christian has much deeper issues than simple filial alienation -- an almost pathological addiction to retribution that manifests itself in a knife-wielding attempt to protect new friend Elias from a local bully. Elias and Christian become fast companions, but as they do, it draws out a level of rage in both boys that threatens to culminate in shocking, terroristic levels of violence.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Mark Deming
Sometimes a talented filmmaker will create a work that's passionate and well crafted even though it's clearly flawed, and as a consequence, viewers are forced to ask themselves if the film's virtues outweigh its flaws, or if the weaknesses fatally compromise the picture. Susanne Bier's film Hævnen (aka In a Better World) is unfortunately one such movie; it's a well-made film with some strong performances, and Bier is clearly trying to address the issues of violence, revenge, and their many consequences in contemporary culture in a thoughtful manner. But for every moment that it's as intelligent and challenging as intended, there's another where the picture simply misses its mark and plays like a contemporary update of The Bad Seed. In a Better World primarily focuses on the relationship between two ten-year-old boys, Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) and Elias (Markus Rygaard). Christian is the new kid at school; his father, Claus (Ulrich Thomsen), has recently moved the family back to Denmark after the death of his wife following a long, traumatic bout with cancer in London. Christian is a tightly wound, often-angry youngster who quickly befriends Elias, a scrawny, buck-toothed boy who is a frequent target for vicious bullies at school. Elias is also struggling with family problems; his mother, Marianne (Trine Dyrholm), and father, Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), are separated and planning to divorce, while Anton is often out of the country working with a medical mission in Africa. When Christian runs afoul of a bully while defending Elias, the next day he responds with vehement force, beating the larger boy with a tire pump and holding a knife to his throat. A grateful Elias helps Christian hide the knife and they manage to avoid expulsion from school, but as the two become close friends, Elias becomes conscious of Christian's bitter streak, paranoia, and taste for violence. When a misunderstanding in the park leads to a scuffle between Anton and an angry auto repairman, Christian decides he and Elias need to punish the mechanic, leading to a shocking act of revenge with serious consequences. Meanwhile, as Elias is pondering the nature of violence and justice, Anton is facing his own dilemma in Kenya; a local guerilla leader known only as Big Man (Evans Muthini) is responsible for a number of horrific assaults on pregnant women, and Anton's personal ethics are put to a troubling test when Big Man himself shows up with a badly infected leg, demanding treatment as his underlings brandish weapons. The biggest problem with In a Better World is that director Bier (who also co-wrote the original story with screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen) deals with the adults in the story far better than the children, yet it's the children who get most of the screen time. When the film focuses on Anton and Marianne's failing marriage and the physical, emotional, and ethical toll of Anton's work in Kenya, Bier handles the material with a sure hand and the actors are in fine form (enough so that one wishes Trine Dyrholm was given a bit more to do as Marianne). However, the movie loses its grip when dealing with Elias and Christian; neither Markus Rygaard nor William Jøhnk Nielsen bring the right amount of nuance to what are admittedly difficult roles, and Christian's fondness for weapons, enthusiasm for violent video games, and barely controlled anger quickly turn one of the film's key characters into a cliché of a youngster on the verge of an emotional meltdown. It's also a bit hard to swallow what happens with the boys in the film's last act, and the many missteps in the handling of the kids' story rob the film of much of the emotional power that comes from the fine acting and capable handling of the grown-up characters. It's hard not to imagine that In a Better World's African subplot could have made for a satisfying film all by itself; as it is, it represents one of the most impressive parts of a movie that's smart and emotionally powerful without being genuinely effective. Bier has brought far too many good things to In a Better World to dismiss it, but it also has too many weak spots for anyone to ignore; it's a frustrating partial misfire from a gifted director who clearly has something worthwhile to say here, even if the message gets muddled in the telling.

Product Details

Release Date:
08/30/2011
UPC:
0043396383364
Original Release:
2010
Rating:
R
Source:
Sony Pictures
Presentation:
[Wide Screen]
Sound:
[Dolby AC-3 Surround Sound]
Time:
1:58:00
Sales rank:
49,543

Special Features

Deleted Scenes; Commentary with Director Susanne Bier & Editor Pernille Bech Christensen; ; Interview with Susanne Bier

Related Subjects

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Mikael Persbrandt Anton
Trine Dyrholm Marianne
Ulrich Thomsen Claus
Markus Rygaard Elias
William Jøhnk Nielsen Christian
Bodil Jorgensen Headmaster
Elsebeth Steentoft Signe
Martin Buch Niels
Anette Støvlebæk Hanne
Kim Bodnia Lars

Technical Credits
Susanne Bier Director,Original Story
Pernille Bech Christensen Editor
Morten Egholm Editor
Peter Grant Production Designer
Anders Thomas Jensen Original Story,Screenwriter
Anne Jensen Sound/Sound Designer
Sisse Graum Jorgensen Producer
Charlotte Laustsen Makeup
Eddie Simonsen Sound/Sound Designer
Morten Søborg Cinematographer
Johan Söderqvist Score Composer

Scene Index

Disc #1 -- In a Better World
1. Scene 1 [5:40]
2. Scene 2 [8:17]
3. Scene 3 [7:27]
4. Scene 4 [7:01]
5. Scene 5 [5:47]
6. Scene 6 [7:28]
7. Scene 7 [3:14]
8. Scene 8 [4:02]
9. Scene 9 [5:38]
10. Scene 10 [7:53]
11. Scene 11 [5:21]
12. Scene 12 [7:47]
13. Scene 13 [5:40]
14. Scene 14 [7:59]
15. Scene 15 [6:43]
16. Scene 16 [12:10]

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