In a Better World (R16)

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Review byMatthew Turner18/08/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 119 mins

Impressively directed and superbly written, this is a powerfully emotional, thought provoking drama with terrific performances from a superb ensemble cast.

What's it all about?
Directed by Susanne Bier, In A Better World (Hævnen, original title fans) stars William Johnk Juel Nielsen as Christian, a grieving and angrily withdrawn 12 year old boy who moves back to Denmark with his father Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) after the death of his mother in London. When he befriends bullied classmate Elias (Markus Rygaard), Christian enacts a violent revenge on Elias' tormentor (Simon Maagaard Holm) that lands both boys in trouble.

Meanwhile, Elias' parents (Mikael Persbrandt as Anton and Trine Dyrholm as Marianne) are dealing with their own problems, partly brought on by Anton spending so much time working as a doctor in Africa, treating the victims of a brutal warlord. And when Anton tries to reason with the father of Elias' bully (Kim Bodnia), the situation quickly escalates out of control.

The Good
The performances are excellent, particularly young William Johnk Juel Nielsen, who maintains a compelling balance between sympathy inducing, grief-stricken, obviously lashing-out child and chilling potential sociopath. Markus Rygaard is equally good as the timid Elias and there's strong support from Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm and the ubiquitous Ulrich Thomsen, whose parenting skills aren't quite up to scratch (Claus's ineffectual father-son chats are both heartbreakingly sad and blackly amusing).

The thought provoking script is extremely good, exploring various ideas of bullying and revenge (the meaning of the film's original title), and making some intriguing parallels between the different story strands. It's also beautifully shot with striking cinematography from Morten Søborg, and there's a great score from composer Johan Söderqvist.

The Great
Bier's direction is assured throughout, maintaining a decent pace and orchestrating some incredibly tense scenes; the sequence where Elias and Christian attempt to get revenge on the bully's bigoted father is nail-bitingly suspenseful. Similarly, the various scenes of violence are extremely well done, particularly Christian's initial bicycle pump beat-down of the bully, which is both thrilling and disturbing in equal measure.

Worth seeing?
In short, In A Better World is an engaging, thought provoking and deservedly Oscar winning Danish drama with a superb script and terrific performances from a fine ensemble cast. Highly recommended.

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In a Better World (R16)
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Content updated: 16/09/2019 20:51

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