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Originally published Sept. 27, 2010
TORONTO — Another richly layered examination of family dynamics and those ever-tricky lines of human communication, “In a Better World” (“Haevnen”) represents a return to accomplished form for Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier after stumbling somewhat with her 2007 English-language film, “Things We Lost in the Fire.”
Working with frequent collaborator, screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, Bier weighs in on the pros and cons of violent confrontation versus pacifism both on the home front and in the international arena with her usual thought-provoking flair.
While ultimately not quite as potent as her Oscar-nominated “After the Wedding,” the film, which was picked up at Cannes by Sony Pictures Classics but has not yet set a domestic release date, still packs a deceptive punch.
This tale of two families and what transpires when their lives become fatefully intertwined, initially focuses on Anton (the imposing Mikael Persbrandt from “Everlasting Moments”), a physician stationed in an African country who tends to the maimed and tortured victims of a sadistic warlord.
Meanwhile, back in Denmark, his son Elias (Markus Rygaard) is being targeted by the resident school bully, much to the disgust of new arrival Christian (William Johnk Juels Nielsen), an angry young man with no patience for compassion following the death of his mother, from cancer.
Unable to reach out to his emotionally unavailable father (Ulrich Thomsen), Christian airs his frustrations by perpetrating a series of increasingly violent acts of vengeance, culminating in an excruciatingly intense third act.
Although Bier masterfully ratchets up the stakes, when all is said and done the multi-leveled “In a Better World” feels a little too overstuffed in terms of all those significant actions and fateful reactions.
But what might have flirted with melodrama in less capable hands remains bracingly persuasive thanks to Bier’s typically understated direction and the effectively grounded performances of her convincing cast.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Sony Pictures Classics)
Production companies: Zentropa Entertainments
Cast: Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen
Director: Susanne Bier
Screenwriters: Susanne Bier, Anders Thomas Jensen
Producer: Sisse Graum Jorgensen
Director of photography: Morten Soborg
Production designer: Peter Grant
Music: Johan Soderqvist
Editor: Morten Egholm, Pernille Bech Christensen
No rating, 113 minutes
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