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