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In a Better World came to us right after winning an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, but it is an award that the Academy has gotten wrong a number of times before. Luckily, In A Better World, out Tuesday on Blu-ray and DVD, is an interesting Euro-social drama that is a compelling watch with deep themes and ideas behind it.
In a Better World focuses on two boys, Elias (Markus Ryaard) and Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) and their families. Elias is a child who is bullied at a school that’s ineffective at dealing with it and his parents’ marriage is going through some difficulties. Christian has just lost his mother to cancer and moves from London to live with his dad in Denmark. He is willing to take action against bullies. As the two become friends, they see other people who are bullied and decide to take action, which comes with consequences.
At the same time, Elias’ dad, Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), is a doctor in a Sudanese refugee camp where an evil warlord and his men use pregnant woman in their sick betting games. Christian, on the other hand, is still grieving over his mother and has a very distant relationship with his father (Ulrich Thomsen) who is pushed away at every turn.
Director Susanne Bier is possibly best known for her films Things We Lost in the Fire and the original version of Brothers. Her latest movie sets out to explore the themes of personal and social anger and the darker underbelly of a seemingly peaceful society. Many of the characters are corrupted by their anger which leads them to more extreme actions that would not have been thought possible. Aggression is around them in many forms and the children want to take control over something in their lives. Bier keeps her direction down to earth, showing the world as it is and events as they are. She avoids camera or editing tricks as events gradually evolve in a believable and compelling manner.
In a Better World is filled with superb acting throughout, especially from Nielsen playing a nearly psychopathic kid who is willing to use extreme violence. He is a character with a lot of pain behind him, while Ryaard made Elias out to be a loyal friend who is simply a decent child thrown into an extreme world. The adult actors also provide natural, believable performances. Persbrandt, whose character has seen the horrible impact of war, portrays Anton refusing to fight because of his strong sense of morality, and his wife, Marianne (Trine Dyrholm), is simply a worried mother.
In a Better World can be a grim film, but it is certainly food for thought.
In a Better World
Directed by Susanne Bier
Written by Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring: Markus Ryaard, William Jøhnk Nielsen, Mikael Persbrandt