Skip to main content
The Independent Critic

Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm
Susanne Bier
Anders Thomas Jensen, Susanne Bier
Rated R
119 Mins.
Sony Classics (US)
Deleted Scenes; Commentary w/Susanne Bier & Editor Pernille Bech Christensen; Interview with Susanne Bier; BD Live Enabled; Available as Blu-Ray DVD Combo-Pack (HIGHLY RECOMMEND!)

 "In a Better World" Review 
Winner of this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Susanne Bier's In a Better World is a powerful and unforgettable examination of violence, retribution, anger and intolerance.

Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a doctor who commutes between his home in an idyllic Denmark town and his work in an African refugee camp. While these worlds are seemingly very different, both settings call Anton and his family into facing difficult choices between revenge and forgiveness as the film circles around two families dealing with acts of violence and cruelty.

Anton's son is Elias (Markus Rygaard), a stereotypical good kid at school who wears braces and gets picked on or, better said, relentlessly bullied. The new kid on the scene, Christian (William Johnk Nielsen), defends him in a rather brutal manner and the two become fast friends. While Elias is struggling to deal with his parents' pending divorce, Christian blames his father, Claus (Ulrich Thomsen), for his mother's death from cancer.

The lives of these two families will become intertwined when Anton is attacked during one of his trip's back home while trying to turn a physical altercation into a lesson for his son about conflict resolution and forgiveness. Christian devises a plan for he and Elias to gain revenge against Anton's attacker, while back in Africa Anton's clinic is visited by a man who is known himself to brutalize the local women.

Bier has never been a particularly subtle director, and such is definitely the case with In a Better World, a film that places two similar stories in two vastly different parts of the world yet manages to infuse both with moral lessons and platitudes that make it perfectly understandable why the film attracted Oscar's attention. That said, In a Better World was a poor selection for this year's Best Foreign Language Film, especially with the likes of Biutiful, Dogtooth and Incendies. While this year's field was one of the weakest in recent years, In a Better World is a flawed film elevated because of its admirable themes and the Academy's respect for Bier's cinematic catalogue.

In a Better World is a good film, but it constantly feels like Bier is trying to make it a great one. The Africa angle, while compelling on its own doesn't feel cohesive with the rest of the film that unfolds. If Bier had simply allowed the film to exist in Denmark, for example, In a Better World would have felt like more wholly satisfying experience. Instead, the film has the branch hanging out alongside it that adds additional characters, additional lessons and ancillary details that are simply unnecessary.

The two boys in the film are by far the most involving characters within the film, mostly because Rygaard and Nielsen play them both quite convincingly and prove once again that it seems to be only in America that we are stuck with a wealth of young actors who simply can't act. Persbrandt intriguing as Anton, while Thomsen's Claus provides a nice comparison and contrast. Essentially, Bier is creating a somewhat emotionally dizzying portrait of those who care and those who don't and, quite obviously, laying her hat with those who choose a path of compassion and empathy. How the story resolves itself is intelligent and rather unpredictable, though it fits comfortably within Bier's moral platitudes.

Morton Soborg's handheld camera work helps to support both the immediacy and the urgency of Bier's message, while Johan Soderqvist's original score helps to heighten the film's intensely high dramatic moments while softening in just the right spots to reveal the intimacy underneath the story.

While In a Better World isn't quite up to Bier's earlier work, it is unquestionably her best film in years and a considerable improvement over her recent Hollywood efforts. An intelligent and thoughtful approach towards challenging issues, In a Better World was a most deserved Oscar nominee this year for Best Foreign Language Film and those who appreciate fine family dramas or thought-provoking discussions on social issues will most appreciate the film.

In a Better World
is rated R and is a Dutch language film with English subtitles. In Indianapolis, the film is playing at the Keystone Art Cinema and is currently on a limited nationwide run with distrib Sony Classics.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic