In a Better World (2010) Poster

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An astonishing achievement
jstad-906-12020024 November 2010
Saw this in Toronto and it remained with me for days afterward. Shattering filmmaking! The size and elegance of a Hollywood big budget, with the honesty and challenge of an indy. The performances, especially those of the two boys, are riveting, but I was also impressed with the deep focus photography, the haunting score. Went to see this because I had so enjoyed After the Wedding - but feel this is even better. Only the ending conflict resolution is, perhaps, a little too easy-- but not unearned. And oh boy, was I grateful for it. I want to see this with my son, because I want him to experience the moral and emotional snake pit Bier and her screenwriter toss us into: every guy --no matter what age-- will get it, and none of us will like it very much. To me, Bier speaks about what it SHOULD mean to be a man. Is vengeance built into our genes? I hope not. And I hope this wins the Academy Award this year, and everybody in America goes to see it.
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A haunting insight into man's soul
rowiko12 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this on the plane the other day, and my only regret is that it was on a small screen.

I've come to like Danish films in general (and Ulrich Thomsen in particular) in recent years, although they are usually not very easy to watch. What they all seem to have in common is a certain melancholy, and they can therefore come across as rather depressing.

The same here. Christian's mother's cancer death is quite obviously affecting both the boy and his dad very, very deeply (though in very different ways), and the deep sorrow seem catchy for the viewer as well. It is probably also, however, a sign of the brilliant acting.

The parallel storyline of Elias and his parents, who are in the process of a divorce, affects the viewer equally deeply.

The stories are brilliantly interlinked, and the underlying theme of revenge is constantly there and makes us think. A lot! A deep-going, dramatic and extremely powerful movie, which, I think, a wide audience should see. In my view, it would certainly deserve an Oscar!
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christiandyrbye28 August 2010
I went to see this movie with no expectations what so ever. When we arrived to the theater i saw people leaving (who just saw the movie) with tears streaming down their face. Inside the theater people was talking and laughing but after a few minutes their was a deadly silence all around us. The story is so well-written and the actors play just marvelous. Even the child actors, who often ruin most movies, were casted and performed perfectly. The camera setting is some of the best i've seen in a long time. There are so many beautiful scenes from Denmark aswel in some African country.

I highly recommend every one to go see this movie. The story is well written, and not full of the usual clichés film these days are full off. Susanne Bier has truly pulled of a masterpiece.

I heard a rumor after wards that this movie might be nominated for an Oscar, which i really hope for. Everyone should watch this emotional movie.

And for you who are wondering if i left the theater crying no i didn't, but my eyes got wet 3 or 4 times during the movie. That happens extremely rarely for me.
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The problem of vengeance
stensson7 October 2010
Is there any subject more mistreated in movies than retaliation? No, I don't think so. There's a dishonourable and long history about it and calling some of the stuff redneck and primitive is being unfair to the whole redneck movement.

Susanna Bier puts other dimensions to it. The boy being bullied at school is also an old subject, but here the real painful questions about so called pay-back are thrown in our faces. A revenge is seldom just a revenge; it brings other consequences too. That sounds like a cliché, but Susanne Bier says it in a way which concerns us. Like vengeance movies seldom do.

Great performance by Mikael Persbrandt, well known for misusing his talent too many times. But not here.
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Cruel to Be Kind
ferguson-625 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Greetings again from the darkness. As is customary, the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film finally makes it to Dallas in April AFTER the awards show is long forgotten (well, except for the half-assed hosting job by James Franco). Denmark's entry, directed by Susanne Bier (Things We Lost in the Fire), is overflowing with every human emotion one can imagine. However, the battle between two emotions is most prevalent: misplaced revenge and forgiveness.

At it's core, this is a story of two fathers and two sons. The presentation is quite odd in that it tries desperately to tie in all spectrum of human emotion and economic standing. Anton (Mikael Persbrandt from the excellent 2008 "Everlasting Moments") travels back and forth between an African refugee camp where he serves as a doctor, and his upscale Denmark home where he is separated from his wife and trying to set a good example for his son Elias (Markus Rygaard).

The other father is Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) whose relationship with his son Christian (William Johnk Nielsen) is flat out terrible. Christian's mother has recently lost her battle with cancer and it has caused a rift between these two ... and lit a fire of anger in young Christian.

Soon enough Christian stumbles upon Elias being bullied at school. His flaming temper sets the bully straight with a violent act, creating a bond between Elias and Christian. Sadly Christian continues to spin off axis and he drags Elias along.

As a doctor in the camp, Anton constantly strives to repair the despicable acts of the local town bully. This is used to contrast with what's going on with his own son at home. There are many parts of the film that are difficult to watch, especially as Christian just loses his grip on reality.

While I certainly see the excellence in the film, I believe the filmmakers tried too hard to stage the contrast. The story of the boys was plenty powerful enough to carry a film. Also, the doctor in the camp could have made a chilling movie on it's own. Instead we gets bits of each and that's fine ... just not what it might have been.
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Where does it end?
TBJCSKCNRRQTreviews3 September 2010
After his mother's death, Christian moves once again, and starts in a new school. He meets Elias, and defends him against bullies. The latter's father works as a doctor in Africa, with a sadistic crime lord nearby. And so we have the setting for a drama exploring revenge, as well as power struggles, loss and fear. The overall moral isn't going to surprise anyone(and it isn't entirely consistent), and this does occasionally stoop to a cliché. However, it remains a gripping and effective film, and it manages to interject a lot of insight and truth, seeing situations from multiple different perspectives. This is the second movie by Bier that I watch, and I am confirmed in my assertion that Things We Lost in The Fire was a fluke, and not representative of her level of talent(it should be noted that the main problem with that one was the script, and she had nothing to do with that). She abandons the eyeball shots, and there is much rejoicing. The camera is close at times, though no longer oppressively so. This has a cinematography similar to the show NCIS, with hand-held cameras. I didn't feel like the nature footage added anything, at least not that of Denmark. The editing puts you right there, without being annoying or particularly drawing attention to itself. This is written by the man behind Den Du Frygter, Mørke and Blinkende Lygter(and other famous ones, but those are the ones I've seen and liked), and his skill and credible, human characters(that are the focus) shines through. Everything is set up, and most of it pays off. The acting is excellent, without exception, the kids especially. Our half-way orphaned lead captures every look and movement to perfection, and they really did find someone who could be Thomsen's son. Bodnia returns to a typecast role for him, and delivers. The vast majority of the humor works, and nearly none of it detracts from the serious and important subject. Everyone can recognize the little brother in someone they do or have known. The music is appropriate and not distracting. Dialog is great. No soap opera moments, it all comes across as entirely genuine, and nothing comes out of the blue. The tone is mature and honest; we don't feel preached to, or lectured, this respects its audience and honestly understands what it has to say, it isn't merely repeating a mantra. There is gore(think ER) and disturbing content in this. I recommend it to anyone that this at all appeals to. 8/10
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Revenge and Other Ethical Dilemmas
pinkblueberry1220 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
In A Better World is yet another great film directed by the talented Susanna Bier. In this film, the characters deal with many ethical dilemmas and general life issues. The film deals with issues such as revenge, divorce, death, and other things that people deal with daily. The three main characters, Christian, Elias, and Anton deal with these issues differently and each have to figure out their beliefs throughout the film.

Christian is a young boy who loses his mother early in the film. He moves to a new town in Denmark after living internationally for many years. At his new school, he meets Elias and they become good friends. Christian has a lot of anger built up from his mother's death and takes it out very violently. He carries around a knife and knows how to make a bomb. While he only uses this violence against people that he believes deserve it, he definitely takes things too far. This brings up the main theme of the film, revenge, which is also the meaning of the Danish title of the movie, Hævnen. Christian pulls a knife out on another boy who is bullying Elias. The boy deserved to be stood up to, but the knife is pretty extreme for young boys. He then convinces Elias to help him bomb a car owned by a man who was rude to Elias's father, Anton. Yet again, this is crossing the line. Eventually Christian learns his lesson, but this shows the struggles of a young boy lost from losing a parent figure and living in an unstable environment.

Elias is dealing with divorced parents and bullies. He loves his father very much, but he is usually working abroad in Africa. He befriends Christian who teaches him to stand up for himself. As their relationship grows, Elias's values become more and more unclear because of his new friend's influence. It is typical for people to be pushed into situations that make them uncomfortable by the people around them, especially at a young age. Bier does a good job of portraying this common issue and the story is very moving. We know all along that Elias is a nice person and that he knows that he should not be carrying around a knife or bombing cars, but he also has been pushed around for years and is excited to have a friend and to be able to stand up for himself. Without the guidance of his father, he loses track of his values until things go too far. People often lose track of their values as they meet more people and experience things like divorce and Elias is a great example of that. Even people who are good at heart make mistakes, but it is possible to learn your lesson and be reminded of yourself.

Anton, Elias's father, is a good example of the ethical issues that adults have to deal with. He is going through a divorce caused by his own extramarital relationship, yet he is still in love with his wife. Meanwhile, he is working as a doctor in Africa, making it hard to be a good father and to get his wife back. While in Africa, the man causing all of the terror for his patients comes to him for help. Anton must decide whether he wants to help this man who has done many terrible things, or if he can deal with letting him die. Tying the larger world into the lives of the characters in the film is something that Susanna Bier is very good at. This is an interesting way of making films and adds more to the stories of the characters. Africa is a big part of Anton's life and it is hard for him to distance himself from that life, while at the same time it is hard for him to be away from his life at home. Finding that balance while keeping his morals in tact is Anton's main issue. What he is doing in Africa is extremely admirable, but it gets in the way of raising his son and impacts their lives very much.

In A Better World is not only very entertaining and beautifully filmed and scripted, but it forces the viewers to question their own actions and choices. Susanna Bier succeeds at creating a film that is both pleasing to watch and an extremely meaningful experience. She has created yet another beautiful and powerful movie that everyone can relate to. In another director's hands, the plot might seem a little bit extreme, but she makes it work. The characters are not only relatable, but also very complicated and easy to become attached to. Overall, I would definitely suggest this film to anyone looking for a meaningful movie-watching experience.
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Excellent performances.
username-taken20 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"In a Better World" is a film that lives up more strongly to its English title than its Danish title. It is an accomplished film that elegantly introduces the moral conflicts we battle internally. At one point I became increasingly frustrated with what seemed to be cowardice thinly veiled by pacifist propaganda ─ particularly during the scene between the Doctor and the mechanic where he is repeatedly slapped in the face.

Perhaps the reason why this scene in particular makes me cringe is because culturally I react to the notion than to be slapped in the face is perhaps even more offensive than being punched. A fist to the face is an assertion of one's pride, whereas a slap in the face is interpreted as a deliberate act of humiliation.But as the story unravels, you realize all prior scenes ─ particularly that one ─ set up and elevate the effect of what is a redeeming, powerful, yet nostalgic ending.

The female lead delivers the most heart breaking performance in the film, but the most note worthy are those delivered by the children who seem to have full grasp of the sophisticated storyline at their young age. The director clearly has instructed them to deliver the pain felt by their characters in a convincing way without the need to reduce them in intellect as many other filmmakers often feel inclined to do with child roles.

I would strongly recommend this movie to anyone who is intrigued by international films - start here.
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One of the best films of 2010.
thevisitor96715 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
To put it simply, IN A BETTER WORLD is about revenge. And we see this form of behavior happening all over the place so its theme couldn't be more relevant today. Al Qaeda bombed the World Trade Center in New York so the US attacked Afghanistan and Iraq. Israelis attacked the Palestinians. Palestinians attacked back. Indians attacked the Pakistanis. Pakistanis attacked back. And on and on it goes. The important question that is raised in IN A BETTER WORLD is: How far should you go when someone does you wrong? It is important to defend yourself when someone attacks you. This is what happened in IN A BETTER WORLD. At the beginning of the film, a bully picked on a weakling named Elias. The bully called him names and pushed him around. His friend, Christian, was horrified by Elias not standing up for himself so he took it upon himself to defend Elias. This is a recurring behavior of Christian throughout the movie. If a person did him or someone else wrong then he sought revenge. He did this with his father by accusing him of not loving his mother. He did this with a mechanic who struck Elia's father. And, as I said before, he did it with the bully who picked on Elias. Why does Christian have this vengeful nature? It could all stem to his mother's death. He probably felt cheated out that his mother died at a young age so he is now filled with hate and revenge. And if he sees any kind of injustice in the world, he fights back. The problem with Christian's thinking is that it's impossible to fight all the injustices in the world without incurring some consequences. And some of those consequences are horrible. Unfortunately, Christian has to learn this lesson the hard way. So, how far should you go when someone does you wrong? Go and see IN A BETTER WORLD to find out. Highly recommended.
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Fantastic! This is a must see!!
patrikkeihag19 October 2010
A good movie is a good movie. But I seldom have seen such a fantastic movie from Scandinavia. The photo, the locations, the casting, the music, the acting, a strong story and Susanne Biers touch of directing.

I was really glad to see Mikael Persbrandt in this kind of roll, hoping to see more of this... The two young boys, playing the main characters, wow! We have not seen the last of this young men!

A strong story on many levels, a beautiful sadness from the Nordic country's, with a high recognize level for most people...

You really need to see this film, one of the best ones I have seen in years.

I wouldn't be surprised if this movie wins a ton of awards.

Susanne Bier, you have made a lot of good films before this one, but for this one I really salute you.

Thank You!!
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Nice to look at but not good enough
jotaemesg1 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I've just watched the film this evening and I am not totally captivated by the story. It is pleasant to see a film of such high production standards, which formally unfolds very much off the mainstream, downtrodden way of telling moral stories to which we are used. However, the promises of the beginning are not fulfilled in the second half of the film. The plot is set out brilliantly for the first hour, but then more and more details begin to lack consistence. If the film makers wanted to lecture us on the uselessness of private justice, for instance, I have to say the result leaves much to be desired. Frankly, if you, as an adult, faced such extreme situations as those depicted in the film, would you react likewise? Ynoel-2 from Spain denounces the script as manipulative, and I think he has a point (I look forward to read the future comments he nearly promises). I enjoyed the glossy cinematography, some good dialogues and several strong scenes, but I'm afraid that, if I watch this movie again in, say, a couple of years, I won't like it half as much.
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In a better movie...
Hellmant15 September 2011
'IN A BETTER WORLD': Three and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

This Danish drama won Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards (as well as the 2011 Golden Globe). It deals with violence in Denmark among children when two ten year olds meet at school and form an unhealthy alliance against bullies. The film was titled 'Haevnen' in Danish which means 'The Revenge'. It was directed by Susanne Bier and written by Anders Thomas Jensen. It stars Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt (and some of the film is spoken in Swedish, as well as English) as well as Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, William Johnk Nielsen and Markus Rygaard. I found the film interesting and well made but not nearly as good as all the critical acclaim and accolades it's gotten.

The film focuses on a boy named Elias (Rygaard) who is constantly picked on and abused by bullies at his school in Denmark. His father, Anton (Persbrandt), is a doctor who works at a refugee camp in Africa and is constantly commuting back and forth. Anton and Elias's mother, Marianne (Dyrholm), have not been getting along and are contemplating a divorce. Elias's younger brother has not been effected by this as much as he has but his parent's problems combined with the bullying at school has caused a lot of emotional problems for Elias. When a new kid named Christian (Nielsen) moves to town with his father, Claus (Thomsen), from London Elias finally finds a good friend and someone he can relate to. Christian, having just lost his mother to cancer, has psychological issues of his own and is eager to help Elias with his problems. They first get revenge on the main bully picking on Elias at school in a somewhat brutal way but when Anton is assaulted by another father their ideas for revenge turn much more dangerous.

I could really relate to the outcast elements of the film and the issues of dealing with bullying and finding that one friend you can really relate to but I didn't understand the depression issues that pushed the kids towards violence so easily. I've read that's part of the film's point, exploring "how little it takes before a child - or an adult - thinks something is deeply unjust" (as said by Bier herself, according to Wikipedia). In that way the film works but I couldn't really find it relatable. For a film to really work for me it has to strike certain emotions and I have to connect with it in some kind of way (either emotionally or on a pure entertainment level) and this film didn't do that for me (as well made as it is). The acting, directing and writing are all more than adequate but in my opinion it's far from a great film.

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This isn't as much a great movie as a great experience
socrates9919 October 2011
This movie is a far more direct and disturbing probe into some of our more troubling inclinations than anything I've seen since becoming a fan of Lars von Trier's movies. The topic here is vengeance and its consequences, more or less. I was a little surprised to find it had been directed by a woman, Susanne Bier. I've always thought women would be good at this kind of near melodrama but have never actually seen one tackle such a project, to my knowledge. The story centers around two boys and their developing reaction to first school house bullying, but then a much more serious instance of it in their home life. The acting is beautifully done and none of the leads seem to have held back in the slightest. One dad is a doctor who, it appears, donates his services to a part of Africa wrought with violence. Despite his obvious good nature, he and his wife, also a doctor, are having problems.

It's unusual in my experience to have a woman show just how much more selfless a man might be than his wife, but that is exactly what is done here. And it's quite refreshing. But the sweep and breadth of this movie is quite satisfying on its own, spanning from Africa to modern day Denmark. This is a trip I wouldn't hesitate recommending to anyone.
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Tragedy can bring people together.
OleDom19 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Why does it take tragedy to bring people together? By the end of this movie, this was the only question that stuck in my mind. Many of the central Ideas which surrounded this movie all lead back to tragedy. Although some tragedies were more drastic than others, they were all substantial enough to affect one's life. It was as if tragedy was a revolving door.

This movie had a very cinematic feel to it. Within its budget at least. The camera angles shifts at certain points in the movie which seems to be on purpose. I noticed that the camera would stay still until it is focusing on one person. When it is a face shot of single person then the camera starts to sway back and forth a little bit. You could feel the tension amongst the characters in the movie when the camera did this. In one particular scene (actually the only scene I remember this happening in), Christian finds some fireworks with gun powder in them. As he turns towards Elias to explain what he found the camera dramatically zooms in on Christian. What is weird about this though is that it doesn't zoom straight to his face, the camera zooms in but is still far enough to see his body. It was as if there was no point to this technique, besides making the viewer anxious to wonder what is about to happen.

The actors that stood out in this movie were the two young boys. Elias and Christian both reminded me of the movie "The good son" In the good soon a young boy goes to stay with his aunt and uncle. Throughout this movie the little boy realizes that his cousin is crazy and is trying to bring him along to do bad things with him. While both of the boys seem as though they are friends Christian was turning Elias into a parent's worse nightmare. Christian was a character that I could relate to seeing that I have had many friends with troubled past. I felt sorry for him but if I had kids I would not want them hanging around him. Elias on the other hand I really felt sorry for. His character actually made me feel sorry for him. Whenever I see bullying I am not sure how to handle it, and the bullying that took place in this movie actually felt real.

Not being a fan of Dogme 95 I felt that this movie had a feel to it that was very Dogme 95'ish. I really enjoyed this movie and I know that it was obvious that it was done with a professional camera and broke many of the Dogme 95 rules it could have easily been done within the context of Dogme 95. I enjoyed this movie though because it had a cinematic feel to it but it was not a blockbuster movie. I am not sure how big the budget it must not have been very large, there was only a few areas in which the movie took place, and there was only one car explosion. I really enjoy movies such as this that are very simple but very complex at the same time. It's very Complex in the sense of the story.

Tying together the stories of each characters battle at this point in their lives the director did a good job blending all these stories together as well as keeping it clean so I was able to follow each characters life without being confused.

If there was a message in this movie I believe that it was, life goes on. And while life is going on you have to make the best of it. It was important as an audience to know that and if you go back and watch the movie again you will understand that. This movie was put together very well. It was a movie that can bring people together I believe. It is also a movie that can make someone believe again if they are having troubles in their lives.
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Revenge, forgiveness, realities and a solid film
madland15 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This film delves into the depth of emotion without becoming over dramatic, and though the film parallels Bier's other film After the Wedding, it portrays these emotions with less drama and more poignant realism. Everyone is familiar with the darker workings of childhood social groups and how they can become either dangerous or beneficial, and in this case a complex interplay of both. There were few scenes in the film that made decisions look easy, which, in addition to the filming style, created a lot of realism in the film. Though some say the moral stories aren't new, the way the children are confronted with adult issues make a much more multifaceted situation. The main moral question of revenge versus forgiveness

Bier's Dogma reminiscent techniques and her use of parallel stories make for a realistic view of these two families interacting. Interacting is definitely an understatement; in classic Bier style, emotions intensify as the plot moves on. She deals with serious issues and negative affect, which is both brave and hard to watch. Though troubling to experience, the story was powerful enough to make viewers consider their own lives. While not everyone's experiences are to the extreme as in In a Better World, the basic situations are relatable to almost everyone. With her Dogma 95 reminiscent style, the filmmaking itself relates a realistic tone; the usually hand-held camera and shots of characters' faces full on make the film feel more like the viewer is seeing something real that happened.

The gruesome, violent and shocking scenes, to me, did not feel excessive. It was clear that the director aimed to portray real life horrors, not shock audiences in the way of a horror movie. The views of the wounds inflicted on the Africans were shudder-worthy, but I know there are realities like that in life and those people were lucky to see a skilled doctor. The violent beating of the bully at the school with the bike pump was cringe inducing and realistic enough to be truly uncomfortable to watch, which has a Dogma like feel. It is awful to watch, but there is some consolation in the knowledge that the bully won't bother them again. The way Christian took the revenge too far in his attempt to assert his power definitely foreshadowed his actions later in the plot.

The worlds of Africa and Denmark shown parallel to one another to emphasize the universality of the big questions Bier asks of her audience. When is revenge just, and when is it taken too far? The juxtaposition of the doctor treating a man guilty of atrocious crimes and a young boy willing to blow up a van to revenge his friend's dad after getting slapped around by Lars is quite striking. One can somewhat understand the doctor's decision to protect all life until the man starts making terrible comments about the dead girl, so when he turns the man over to the furious community, it feels as though justice has finally come to such a man. After this is shown and Christian convinces Elias to make a bomb, the horror of the situation is obvious. When Elias almost dies to save innocent people, the clarity of the bad decisions is crystal clear and the viewer just hopes that everyone lives long enough to forgive and move on. The happy ending felt a tiny bit forced, but in the same breath I will say that if the film ended with the death of a child, it would be needlessly depressing. She makes her points clear without putting the audience though emotional trauma.

The theme outside revenge was the father-son relationship. One relationship is happy overall, the father is absent often to be a surgeon in Africa with a happy father-son relationship. The other is more filled with angst because the mother died recently and Christian blames his father for it, which becomes the catalyst for most of the film's action. The fathers in Africa mourning the loss of their pregnant wives also play into those roles, even across the world the parental love shines through.

Honestly, there were many things to get out of this film of deep emotional and moral significance, but it also reinforced how terrifying the prospect of parenting is. You not only have to keep it alive, you also have to care for their delicate emotional health or they might make a bomb and almost blow their best friend to smithereens.

I digress; Bier's film is much more than a warning for parents. The children and the wonderful acting speak on a level understood by anyone, commentating on the time and place for revenge and forgiveness.
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Solid direction and performances for a cold but positive picture
yris20022 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
A very cold representation of the terrible peaks violence can reach, in every part of the world, no-one, in any part of this world, seems to be safe from it: being it in the heart of an Africa raped by bands of criminals, being it in the heart of a bourgeois Danemark, there's some violent instinct that produces only damage. The director Susanne Bier uses a very minimalist and steady direction that leaves no room to the unnecessary, but only to the crudity of what is being displayed, and the actors, too respect this cold perspective: good and solid performances, both from the adults and the young. Positive parental figures find it so difficult to raise their children teaching the value of respect and non-violence, and the good has to make such an effort to prevail, that we feel sometimes overwhelmed by this difficulty. However, the movie gives space to optimism and hope in the end, an end which was criticized by some detractors who found it too easily feel-good, in contrast with the general perspective of the picture. I do not agree with them, finding it necessary to counterbalance a reality of violence, which does exists, with a reality of positive people, which does exist, too. This helps the movie vehicle a positive message, to adults but also to a younger audience, which needs and look for, also inside cinema, good examples and messages of hope to grow up.
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Bittersweet is the Taste of Revenge
jadepietro29 May 2011
This film is recommended.

"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."

  • Isaac Newton

Two Danish families, worlds apart in their ideologies and circumstances, come together in Suzanne Bier's Oscar winning foreign film, In A Better World. Screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen takes two parallel stories about parallel lives that converge. Although the screenplay doesn't consistently mesh the duality of its concept, with scenes of African turmoil in sharp contrast with idyllic Danish villages, it does provide thought provoking mediation about the subject of revenge and its impact on violence, death, and day-to-day hardships faced by some minorities in our global realm.

Family No. 1: Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), a Swedish doctor who works in Sudan treating victim of war crimes, tries to be a principled and ethical pacifist, an idealist lost in an ungodly world. He confronts conflict at work and in his private life as his marriage to Marianne (Trine Dyrholm) is floundering. His son, Elias (Markus Rygaard), is dealing with bullying at school and his parents' possible divorce at home.

Family No. 2: Claus (Ulrich Thomsen), a recently widowed and grieving father and his son, Christian (William Johnk Nielsen), who blames his father for his mother's death and cannot adapt to the loss of his mother. Both troubled souls move from London to start a better life.

When Christian defends Elias from the school bully, both boys become instant friends and begin a dysfunctional bonding to survive a world that they perceive as riddled with injustice. Later, an disturbing incident occurs between Anton and another parent which triggers the two boys into righting a wrong in a most extreme way. No longer wanted to be victims, they instead become the oppressors.

Complex issues abound in this film. At some point, each character's action causes an act of retribution, a penalty for their misconduct, but not always the most deserving of punishments. In this unfair world of ours, the turning of a cheek may result in injury rather than reward. Karma is at work and actions decide our fate. We witness the ill treatment of people victimized with global acts of mistreatment and persecution in each country and are unprepared for the film's stark reality. It is the universal atrocities that prevails in our lives that rankles the core of this film and give the film its undeniable power.

This is definitely a Message Movie with a capital M, although sometimes the message is a mixed blessing, becoming a sermon at the pulpit in Bier's skillful hands. The scenes from Africa seem a bit heavy-handed and just don't correlate with the majority of the more interesting story set in Denmark. It also becomes a tad melodramatic in the end. Yet, one has to admire the noble effort and deeper personal vision of this film as it tackles major issues that are so scarce in today's cinema. The acting, especially the young actors, is exceptional.

In A Better World could have been a better film if the story would have concentrated more with the family dynamics and the psychological effects that compound a child's indefensible adult world. But Bier's film is still one of the better example of filmmaking that will more that satisfy the intellectual and more serious-minded moviegoer today. GRADE: B

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Very good movie, not quite excellent
basilisksamuk3 June 2012
As with so many Scandinavian films and TV programmes this is strangely compelling and it's not always clear to me whether this is because they are so well made or because the culture is slightly different from ours. Unlike many American movies this was easy to watch and I was not aware of the time passing. On the contrary I was surprised when it ended as I was so absorbed.

I'm not however convinced of its stature as a masterpiece as some have claimed, or that it is a worthy Oscar winner. It's beautifully filmed and acted but the story seemed to be a bit laboured. I actually applaud the message that the director was trying to put across but in the end I felt a bit dissatisfied just because everything ended so well for everyone and they all seemed to have learned their lessons. You could say that I just wanted something more visceral on the lines of a Hollywood movie but that's not the problem. I just don't believe that all the major characters could emerge so relatively unscathed.

Perhaps the real message is that we should choose to believe in the best outcomes so that's the choice I am making.
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Indy brand with Hollywood punch
paldi16 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
In this gorgeous Oscar-winning film In a Better World, Susanne Bier delivers an entertaining and emotionally compelling film, a matured project which defines that maturation of the Dogme 95 movement, and a profound discussion on the nature of revenge while telling two stories simultaneously in Denmark and Kenya. Perhaps this latter feat—the discussion of revenge—is the most telling, considering the film's international popularity.

The debate at the heart of this film is the nature of revenge. So much seems obvious from the Danish title, Hævnen, which means simply enough, "the revenge". The change to In a Better World is not so much a translation as a deliberate stylistic choice. (Not to argue that a direction translation would have been any better—"The Revenge" definitely would make this seem like a different film!) Though a rather minor thing, it is an interesting change to note, something which might slightly impact the viewers' perspective of the story. Each character, from the pacifist to the emotionally unstable little boy, at some point does exact revenge upon someone else by inflicting harm upon another, but the success and magnitude of the revenge varies vastly. And at the end of the movie the "big" revenge really is not a revenge at all, but a situation much better for all of the characters; instead of debts being paid, debts are forgiven. Instead of relationships being broken, relationships are salvaged.

One another thing about the slight shift of focus which could result from the differing titles is the importance of the African side of the story. While Anton's work as a doctor in African is no doubt an important part of his character and philosophy, I at some points in the film found myself wondering about the importance of this subplot and its characters. The resolution of the African plot is also curiously disappointing—once the bad guy is dead and the community has its revenge, the bad guy stays dead. However, considering the villain's own fears about being usurped, the lack of any retribution on the camp is a bit mystifying. Did the man's henchmen dislike his conduct as much as their victims? If this the case, it was never made clear. They all seemed as bad as him. As it is, this optimistic and peaceful ending of the African side of the story brings more attention to the plot when the title of the movie is In a Better World, a kind of optimistic mantra which appeals to American and western appreciation for a happy ending. Susanne Bier has previously used third world locations in her other movies as essential components to the plot and characters. The most relevant example would be the Danish man running an orphanage in India, who must travel back to Denmark in order to secure funding in After the Wedding (2008). After the Wedding, which was also nominated for the Best Foreign Language film, is in this and many other ways a sister film to In a Better World. In a Better World is in many ways a more mature, more realised version of After the Wedding, and the overall better quality is evident in the fact that it won Bier the Oscar—After the Wedding was good, but it was so close to being great.

And there are several simple things which make In a Better World a better, award winning film. First, the cinematography. It is an absolutely gorgeous film. It is helped rather than hindered by the use of techniques evolved from Bier's Dogme 95 days, including hand-held shots, close-ups to let emotions and gestures speak for themselves, and an understanding and use of natural lightning. After the Wedding uses these technique and more, but the usage is just that one shade too much that pushed it into trying to be an art film. This pushed the film into an awkward place rather than adding another element of interest. The gratuitous amount of shay cut-away shots to eyes, mouths, and elbows was distracting, especially because Bier, unique among many European film directors, uses a style which also incorporates many Hollywood-esque techniques. In In a Better World Bier still uses close up shots and character stills, but in a much more mature and subtle way. The use also does not clash jarringly with the more Hollywood-esque aspects, for example the scenes with the local terrorist group in the African side of the story.

Other areas in which In a Better World surpasses its sister is pacing; it is about twenty minutes longer and, more importantly, it feels a lot shorter, as though it does not drag on. It could also be said to show a more realistic comparison of the privileged life of western Denmark and life in a poor and unstable region. In After the Wedding, the contrast is very conscious and in-your-face, making it feel contrived at times. In In a Better World the comparison is much more subtle, but the contrast certainly is not. The lifestyles of the characters in Denmark versus the characters in Africa is staggering, as is the contrast between the peaceful and idyllic shots of Danish nature to the chaotic and stark shots of African nature, or at least the harsh natural beauty of the desert around the camp. Wealth is not directly brought up, but the disparity is clear.

The contrast of the two places also makes some of the Danish characters' reactions to events seem petty. It certainly provides an interesting commentary on Danish society: Danish society has more problems than it cares to admit, but at the same time some of its problems are so little compared to what the rest of the world faces. Not to reduce Danish problems to nothing, however, since belittling problems does not solve them. What is needed is more understanding.
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Good? Bad? Nah - mediocre...
punishmentpark4 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The big problem with'Haevnen' is that there are too many 'incidents' lined up in a row in an all too easy manor. Strictly speaking, all these things could have happened, but crammed together into a two hour film it's just too much - a miniseries would have been the least - if only to get to know the characters a bit better. But this being a film, the director could have more wisely chosen to build on / around just a few tragic incidents (and coincidences)...

The acting, the settings, the atmosphere, they're all pretty good, although I didn't care for some of that 'shaky' camera work. And a few of the incidents (for instance, the doctor taking the children to the garage owner and that same doctor leaving Big Man behind with the angry crowd) stood out in a positive way, even within that fatted script.

Good? Bad? ...Somewhere in the middle; 5 out of 10.
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An Essay on Revenge
3xHCCH13 March 2011
"In a Better World" by Susanne Bier from Denmark has won both the Golden Globe and later, the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It has done so over much more high-profile films like "Biutiful" from Mexico. My friend from Denmark has not seen it yet, but she told me that Ms. Bier is known for films about relationships. And this one is certainly no different.

The film follows the relationship of two confused pre-teen Danish boys. Christian's mother just died from cancer and he is angry at his dad for letting her go. He is the type who would not simply turn the other cheek in a conflict. Elias is the kid bullies like to pick on in school. His parents, who were both doctors, were in the process of divorce, which distresses him. Elias' dad works as a volunteer doctor in Africa, and this gives the film an extra dimension to work with.

The actual Danish title of this film is "Haevnen" which translates to "revenge." This is exactly what this film is all about. From the more familiar revenge on a bully at school to revenge in several other permutations in different situations in life are depicted here. There are several situations when you can effectively feel the tension of the characters in the events as they unfold on screen. Ms. Bier excels in building up the drama in the situations she has presented us, as vengeance ultimately leads to inevitable consequences.

I have not yet seen any of the other nominees yet so I could not really say if this was the best of them. All I can say is that this family melodrama was well done. The inter-crossing of the stories was done very effectively with suspense and sensitivity. The film is long (almost 2 hrs) and slow, but it is riveting. However, you can't completely shake the feeling that the conflicts you are seeing in "In a Better World" are all familiar situations that we probably have all seen before in various other films -- just better presented. And that is the thing that sets it apart.
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Violent revenge does not create a better world
hawleye-297-58800115 April 2012
In a Better World is a gripping story of two families united through tragedy and misfortunes. Christian, the main character, is a young boy who is dealing with the loss of his mother and his distant father. While Christian deal with his mother's death, he and his father, Claus, move to a new town and Christian is enrolled in a new school. At the new school, Christian becomes friends with Elias, a young boy who is bullied at school and does not make friends easily. These two boys struggle through their trials together and learn about revenge, betrayal, forgiveness, trust and friendships. Christian is the only person who will defend Elias when he is bullied by other kids at school. Christian's first act of defense is to threaten and beat up the boy who bullies Elias. Christian gets himself into trouble with this and from here his troubles spiral out of control because of his desire to get revenge on those who have done something wrong.

Along with his problems at school, Elias also has problems to deal with at home. His parents are in the midst of a divorce and his father is rarely around as he travels to Africa frequently to serve as a doctor. Because of this, Elias seems lost and alone before he becomes friends with Christian.

There are many prevalent themes throughout the film that are very relatable to most viewers. Many complex relationships are portrayed throughout the film and serve to add depth and meaning to the story. The relationship between Anton and Marianne, Elias' parents, is very strained and effects Elias and the way he acts in school. Elias and his father have a stereotypical father-son relationship, except that Elias' father travels a lot and is not always around. This puts a lot of stress on Elias and he does not always have someone to talk to about his problems. When Elias and his father are shown talking via skype, it is clear that Elias just wants someone to talk to, but his father is too distant and almost seems to not care about his son's troubles while he is away. The relationship between Christian and his father is also strained. Christian and his father do not communicate with each other and this causes them to not get along. Claus puts a lot of pressure on Christian to be good, but Christian does not agree with the way his father thinks and acts how he wants regardless of his father. The relationship between Elias and Christian is the most prevalent relationship seen in the film. Their relationship is built on kindness towards each other, but as the film goes on, their friendship becomes strained when they have different views on how to deal with situations. In the beginning, they are able to find common ground and bond over the fact that their parents are not together, although for different reasons. In the end, Christian and Elias' relationship works because they both want the same thing, they both want to fit in and be important to someone.

One of the biggest themes in the film is revenge and violence. It seems as though everyone in the film wants to get revenge on someone somehow. Christian and Elias want revenge on the boy who bullied Elias, they also want revenge on a man that hit Elias' father. Marianne wants some sort of revenge for the way that she was treated by Anton. The young boys see revenge as a way to solve problems, however, their parents do their best to teach the boys that revenge will not solve any problems. We also see the residents of the camp in Africa where Anton works wanting to get revenge. They end up acting violently, similar to the way that Christian and Elias acted when they wanted revenge against the bully in school. Through this film, we are able to see bullying from the perspective of a young school boy and from the perspective of adults. We see that this cruelness exists in childhood and sometimes continues into adulthood. Bullying also occurs across cultures as we see when Anton is working in Africa. We are able to see this story from the point of view of a child and of an adult which adds to the complexity of the emotions shown throughout the film.

I found it difficult to relate to the characters and sympathize with them as I have never gone through any trials similar to these. I could not image ever acting like Christian and Elias or thinking of ways similar to theirs to get revenge. The boys come up with very extreme ideas to get revenge. I was taught at a young age that getting revenge rarely solves anything and I found myself feeling frustrated with the young boys for acting the way they did.

I enjoyed the acting in the film. I felt pulled into the story by the emotions shown by each character and the way that the characters dealt with their emotions. Through these different emotions, the film was able to deepen and move forward. I was especially impressed by Trine Dyrholm's acting. After seeing her in other movies, I am impressed by the different characters that she is able to portray. None of the characters seemed at all the same and she brought a different element to each of the characters I have seen her act as.

Over all, I found the film to be very dramatic and emotional. I would not watch this film again because I did not enjoy the drama and I thought that the way the boys dealt with their emotions was far beyond what any actual 10 year old would do. Throughout the film, I questioned the actions of the characters and I thought there were some aspects that were unrealistic.
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jotix1004 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
As the story begins, we are taken to an unidentified African country, probably Sudan, where Anton, a volunteer Swedish doctor, is helping the sick and the wounded in a country largely dominated by feuding warlords. The victims that come into his ramshackle hospital are suffering from all kinds of maladies, including pregnant women who are the target of one of those soulless criminals roaming the devastated country. Anton is appalled by the conditions he must work, but he keeps his good work even in conditions that might endanger his own lie.

The second narrative concentrates on a young boy, Christian, seen eulogizing his dead mother who has died too young from cancer. His grief stricken father, Claus, decides to bring the boy home to Denmark where he is going to stay with his grandmother. Claus wanted to give Christian a normal life in the small community they live. Trouble finds Christian though. His first day of school is marked when he finds a bully making fun of Elias, a boy that would not fight to defend himself from the older and stronger boy tormenting him.

Fate has Christian and Elias to be seated together in the same classroom. The boys bond right away. Christian is troubled by the fact the bully seems to get away with murder; he decides to put an end to the constant ridiculing and taunting of the weaker Elias. One day, Christian has the opportunity to give his due to the bigger boy by beating with a bicycle pump, which could have gravely harmed the boy. Marianne, Elias' mother, and Claus, are called by the school counselors to see if they can solve the problem at hand. A truce is agreed by all parties.

Marianne, a doctor, has been separated from Anton, who comes home periodically to be near his two sons. One day, while walking with his boys and Christian, he runs into a bullying situation himself when Lars, an aggressive mechanic, comes running to where Anton and the boys have been standing, believing they had done something to his car. Anton, a non violent man decides not to fight the aggressor, thinking perhaps he will teach the kids a lesson in how not to confront the man. Christian does not take the situation lightly. He begins to plot to do something to avenge the injury caused to his friend's father while taking care of Lars in some way, or another.

"In a Better World" by Susanne Bier, the Danish director, poses a lot of moral questions for the audience. The more mature Anton, having lived among violence, realizes his attacker is an imbecile. Christian, on the other hand, is a child that is grieving deeply a death he does not accept, much less understands. Christian has a good sense of righteousness, believing mistakenly in the adage, 'an eye for an eye'. As he did with Elias, Christian decides to take care of Lars in a way he can, but his actions, unfortunately, almost killed his friend Elias, who wanted no part in the plan to harm Lars.

The screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen deals in the contrast between the violent world where Anton must work, and the peaceful Danish setting, where everything should have been peaceful and serene. Unfortunately, not all is quiet in the place where decency should be the prevailing factor in the community. There are layers of violence even in the least expected places. Taking the law into one's hands is also wrong, but in Christian's troubled mind, the events around him make him think differently.

The feat of Ms. Bier is in the way she manages to get good performances from her excellent cast. Michael Persbrandt, does justice to his Anton, a man with a clear conscience and clear vision of humanity. The young actor William Johnk Nielsen is a revelation as the suffering Christian. This young man shows excellent promise. Trine Dyrholm has good moments as Marianne, the concerned mother who wants to protect Elias from the bullying at school. Elias is played with conviction by Markus Rygaard. Johan Soderqvist, the cinematographer captures the Danish and Kenyan locales in clear images. The music score by Morten Soborg adds another layer of texture to the film. Another good film to be added to Ms. Bier's excellent career.
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A Nutshell Review: In a Better World
DICK STEEL20 May 2011
Winner of this year's Golden Globes and the Oscars, the Danish film In a Better World, or Revenge in its native language, helmed by director Susanne Bier shows the powerful stuff that drama is made of, in crafting an engaging, sensitive and even dangerous tale that revolves around two families across two continents that deals with what I would deem as our threshold, tolerance and approach to the notion of being bullied and having the tables turned, to varying consequences.

There's Clause (Ulrich Thomsen) and his son Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) who just moved from London to a small Danish town, where the son blames the father for giving up the good fight against his mom's fight against cancer, and so forges an extremely testy relationship between the two since one fails to forgive the other, and the other trying too hard to seek it. In school, Christian meets Elias (Markus Rygaard), a boy constantly bullied by the older boys just because, whose doctor parents Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) and Marianne (Trine Dyrholm) are estranged because of the suggestion of the former's infidelity, and are on the brink of a divorce. The other major subplot and spatial treatment deals with Anton's time in an African village tending to the poor and the sick, which you'd know from volunteer groups out there who have doctors in their fold performing similar pro-bono services in under dangerous natural and man made circumstances.

As mentioned, the film focuses on something that rears its ugly head from time to time, with bullying happening not only within a school sandbox, but out there in society as well. And the ways we stand up to bullying got captured quite clearly here, as demonstrated by the different characters and their attitudes in handling such situations. For instance, Christian adopts the devil may care approach, for the young lad that he is, preferring to meet fire with fire, and dish out even worst than he received. Constantly scowling, William Nielsen does a good job portraying this angry boy whose daring gets more elaborate culminating in a tense moment which came quite expected in a way though saved by strong performances all round.

While his partner in crime and fellow peer Elias finds himself caught up in a dilemma and tussle whether to rat on his friend who had actually helped to keep the bullies at bay, perhaps it is how Ander Thomas Jensen's story that links Elias' father into the thick of things that made it richly layered. For all his compassion in helping to heal the poor in Africa, Anton follows a vastly different policy in the face of adversity. Perhaps you can point it to the Hippocratic Oath that all doctors have to adhere to, given his moral battle with his conscience when his skills are sought out by a vicious local warlord much to the worries and disbelief of the local population who has a growing respect for the good work performed for the community.

Anton is a fascinating character created, and Mikael Persbrandt shows his charisma in chewing up the scenes each time he appears, from the opening frame to the last. In a foreign land he's almost worshipped as a hero, but back home he's ridiculed and even abused by a stranger with whom he had no fight against, and his non-confrontational nature may seem unreal even, preferring never to stoop as low as his abuser, and hopefully imparting the correct values to his children. But as we see from the wrap up of the African subplot, Anton can in fact turn the tables if he chooses to, and I suppose it's really to pick one's fight, for those that truly matter (maybe even for the greater good, with intent a little bit suspect) rather than one for personal pride.

Director Susanne Bier just knows how to pace and package scenes that make you think, yet offering a lot of heart that they don't seem too overly engineered or manipulative. Through the tales of the different character arcs we see how true the avenues are in our very human response to those that give us flak for nothing or when we deem a certain injustice committed unto ourselves or others, either we talk our way out, fight back, or walk away with heads held high, the latter which is probably one of the hardest thing to do given bruised egos. It's also not too surprising that the perpetrators of this emotional downward spiral seem not to come from the women in the story like Anton's wife Marianne, who was almost like a flower vase if not for two superb scenes in the final act that lifted her role into one of necessity in contrast to how disappointed yet angry a mother can be, that Christian will never feel because of his own mother's absence.

A compelling dramatic piece with excellent characters and relationships, brought vividly to life by the cast of youth holding their own against the veterans, that makes this a must watch, and one of the best films of the year. Highly recommended!
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Danish director's meditation on vigilante justice is well taken but feel-good denouement doesn't quite ring true
Turfseer23 May 2015
Warning: Spoilers
"In a Better World," the Academy's 2011 Best Foreign Film winner, is Danish director Susanne Bier's meditation on vigilante justice. The focus is on two children, Elias and Christian, who develop anti-social tendencies due to problems going on with troubled parents at home.

Elias's father, Anton, a Swedish doctor, is separated from his mother, Marianne, after she discovers he's been having an affair with another woman. Anton spends a good deal of time working as a physician in a Doctors Without Borders refugee camp in Sudan. Christian's father, Claus, has just moved the family back to Denmark from London following the death of his wife. Christian blames Claus for lying to him that his mother would get well and also accuses him of wishing that she would die in the later stages of her illness.

The bulk of the plot involves Christian befriending Elias at the local school, after Elias is subject to severe bullying by classmates, particularly one Sofus, Elias's main tormentor. Christian metes out vigilante justice to Sofus, beating him with a pipe and putting a knife to his throat. Christian clearly realizes the school authorities will do nothing to stop the bullies under their charge and their impotence is reflected in Marianne's complaints to the school administrators, who she blames for doing nothing to stop the violence. Biers asks at this point, should we admire Christian for taking the law into his own hands to prevent further violence, or is his use of a knife a troubling portent of things to come?

Sure enough, a second incident leads to escalating tension and violence. When Anton separates his younger son from another bullying child in a playground, the bullying child's father, a gruff car mechanic, threatens Anton, upset that Elias' father touched his son, in his effort to separate the two brawling children. Anton won't take the bait and get into a physical confrontation with the car mechanic. Christian convinces Elias that his father is a "wimp" for not physically confronting the car mechanic and in a more sinister turn, hatches a plot to blow up the car mechanic's van with a pipe bomb.

Perhaps the most engaging aspect of Beer's narrative is the portrait of the more than troubled Christian, whose demeanor rivals older individuals, who engage in psychopathic behavior. Indeed, the steely Christian (played by an excellent William Jøhnk Juels Nielsen), truly comes off as a despicable and scary youngster, reminiscent of some of the sinister characters hatched in American high schools, responsible for mass killings.

When Elias is hurt during the pipe bomb blast of the car mechanic's car, Christian's outlook takes an unlikely turn where he blames himself for his friend's injury, to the point where he's on the verge of suicide (it takes some quick thinking on Anton's part, to find the boy and save him).

Meanwhile, back at the refugee camp, Beers argues that there are limits to pacifism. A local warlord, blamed for a slew of atrocities amongst the populace, shows up with his machine gun toting thugs, and demand that Anton treat a severe case of gangrene which has affected his leg. When the warlord claims responsibility for sexually abusing one of the women whom Anton has been treating in his make-shift hospital, Anton has had enough, drags the man outside where a mob of local villagers, beat him to death. The scene doesn't quite work as the warlord's confederates seem to shrink away and allow the angry mob to do their boss in.

While Ms. Beers' nuanced exploration of vigilantism may lead one down a path of troubling cognitive dissonance for the viewer, her decision to tie the overall narrative up with an unlikely happy ending is not a good one. Indeed, I had a hard time buying that Christian would suddenly become a respectable member of the community, given the slippery slope he had already gone down. Are psychopaths so easily redeemed? I think not. And some of the other "feel-good" resolutions also felt a little too pat (Elias' miracle recovery and the reconciliation between Anton and Marianne).

"In a Better World" raises troubling questions about vigilante justice and features some excellent performances, particularly from the two child protagonists. Nonetheless, director Beers' denouement unfortunately is not consistent with her earlier tale of alarming psychopathy run amok.
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