Movie Review: In A Better World

In A Better World is the winner for this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It is only the third of the five nominees I’ve seen: the others being Canada’s Incendies and Spain’s Biutiful. I finally had the chance to see In A Better World a while back. This film has a story line that really gets one thinking.

The film begins as a Danish boy named Christian reads a eulogy at his mother’s funeral. He appears calm and composed but his mother’s death troubles him. He and his father move from London to Denmark where he spends his spare time on the roof of his grandfather’s silo looking out. We then meet Anton, a Swedish doctor who lives in Denmark but spends most of his time working in a refugee camp in Sudan. The villagers, especially the children, regard him as a hero but home life is difficult as he is on the verge of a divorce and he doesn’t see his sons as often as he’d like.

Their paths cross as Anton drops his son Elias off to school. A group of bullies taunt Elias because of his awkward looks. As Christian interferes, he too is assaulted. As Elias is bullied again the next day, Christian assaults the bully with his bike pump and threatens him with a knife at his throat never to hurt him again. Anton hopes to teach the two boys about the wrongs of violence as he himself witnesses it in the refugee camp each day. He gets a chance as his son is fighting with another boy in a playground and the father of the other son hits Anton. From atop the silo, Christian is able to spot where the man who hit Anton works by his car. Anton takes the boys again to see him confront the man where he gets hit again. Anton wants the boys to see how violence fails but they don’t get his intended message.

Later Anton is called back to work in the refugee camp. He soon has to deal with tending to the wounded warlord despite villagers pleading for him not to help. It’s later after a female patient dies that the warlord coming asking for her body that Anton leads him out where he is met by villagers ready to lynch him. After coming across fireworks in the silo, Christian gets an idea to create a bomb to blow up Anton’s attacker’s van. Meanwhile Christian’s relationship with his father takes a turn for the worse as Christian lets out his frustrations about his mother’s death, including his father’s failed promise that his mother would get better. Elias tries to talk to his father via Skype about Christian’s plan but Anton is exhausted after a stressful day. Elias then agrees to Christian’s plan. They go out one Sunday when no one is to be around and set the bomb off under the van. As Elias notices joggers, he wards them off but the bomb explodes knocking him unconscious.

Anton comes rushing back to Denmark after learning Anton is unconscious and hospitalized. When Christian tries to visit Elias in the hospital, Elias’ mother tells him to leave and calls him a ‘brat’ and a ‘psychopathic killer.’ Christian runs off and goes to the top of the silo contemplating to jump, only to be stopped by Anton. He reconciles with his father and goes to visit Elias, relieved knowing that Elias is alive and recovering well. The movie ends as Anton returns back to Sudan and is greeted by the adoring children.

There are a lot of subjects in this film. One of which is about communication barriers between people. There’s the main protagonist Anton struggling with communicating to his wife while they’re on the verge of splitting up. Anton again struggling to be there for Elias while he’s thousands of miles away in Sudan. Anton struggling to be an idealist to the boys and show how weak violence is when the boys expect Anton to be a hero. Christian struggles to relate with his father just after his mother’s death. He also struggles with the personal troubles of himself. There’s also the subject of making hard decisions. Anton has a duty of being a doctor to the refugees while Elias faces problems of his own. Anton is faced with a hard decision of being a doctor to the wounded landlord while the people insist that he doesn’t help him. Overall Anton is trying to be the man of reason and he has his share of successes and failures. Elias makes a tough decision whether to rejects Christian’s plan to blow up his father’s enemy’s van or not. All of which deliver in the results in the choices they make, or fail to make.

This is another impressive script from Susanne Bier. Although I have not seen her past works, I know she has developed a reputation. She has produced many works in Sweden and Denmark and even has one American release: 2007’s Things We Lost in The Fire. This is her latest work. The script she co-wrote with Anders Thomas Jensen also touches base on another subject of the film. Before they wrote the script for the film, Bier and Jensen had a discussion about how Denmark is perceived as having a harmonious society. They then wanted to write a story where dramatic turns of events would disrupt the image of a place perceived as blissful. The film’s original title is Hævnen, which is Danish for ‘revenge’. This film is a stark reminder that it’s quite possible in countries like Denmark that appear to be harmonious and peaceful, violence can happen through the actions of a single instigator. The film does a good job of setting situations of violence, both in Denmark and Sudan, while capturing the perceived peacefulness of Denmark at the same time.

The acting in the film was also excellent. The lead actor, Mikael Persbrandt, was excellent in portraying a man trying to maintain peace and show rational thought in hugely stressful situations both on the job and at home. Young actor William Johnk Neilsen was excellent as the troubled Christian. Also excellent were the performances of Trine Dyrholm and Markus Rygaard. The film did a good job of not overdramatizing events and maintaining its themes along with the storytelling. The cinematography added to the storytelling of how acts of violence can happen in such a peaceful place like Denmark.

It’s hard to say if In A Better World deserved the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. I’d hate to compare it against its rivals. Nevertheless it was a very good film in its own right. It keeps one thinking as they leave the theatre.

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One response

  1. If you want to get the attention of the Oscars, there are a lot of boxes you have to tick. In a Better World covers pretty much all of them, which is no doubt why it won the Academy’s Best Foreign Language Film award a few weeks back: big social issues, good-looking cast, crushing poverty, cute kids with issues, a script that avoids easy answers but manages to find a happy ending… hell, it’s a wonder any of the other nominees even bothered to turn up for the Oscars, this one was such a lock.

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