Film Review: In a Better World

22 Mar

By Julian Buckeridge

Academy-Award winning In a Better World continues Susanne Bier’s trust in her actors’ talents to carry the audience through emotional and dialogue-heavy sequences. The director’s new film is rich in narrative with beautiful performances but is let down by its lack of impact.

In a Better World is the story of two families struggling with loss. Elias (Markus Rygaard) is the son of the separated Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) and Marianne (Trine Dyrholm), while Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) treats his father (Ulrich Thomsen) with contempt after his mother’s death.

Elias is unable to connect with either parent – his father spends most of his time at a refugee hospital in Africa – and suffers from bullying at school. When Christian interjects, the two boys begin an estranged friendship. Problems arise when Christan’s warped sense of justice focuses on Anton’s pacifism, where the boy’s actions put the lives of others in danger.

This uniformly strong cast play out a morality tale, where two interweaving families attempt to deal with grief. Thrust towards maturity, the two boys are particularly convincing in their distinctly different responses. Nielsen’s Christian focuses in on weakness and reacts violently. Yet he is just as scared as Rygaard’s Elias, who acts against his better judgement to be accepted by others.

The importance of parenting is always stressed and adults are criticised for their passive involvement in the lives of the children. The film deconstructs dilemmas and confronts the consequences of both action and inaction when both can be devastating.

It is disappointing then that In a Better World – at times – feels forced due to the lack of subtlety in its direction and screenplay. It never achieves an emotional impact and is a lesser film for it.

Nevertheless, this is a beautifully shot and stunningly performed foreign drama with rich philosophical questions.

In a Better World opens on Thursday 31st of March (Cinema Nova and others).


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