It is likely to strike your core and stay there, if you're lucky, perhaps forever.
Danish Director Susanne Bier has made a movie that addresses nothing less than the universal question of what it means to be a moral human being. Her story suggests an important answer, and she has done it so well that it is likely to strike your core and stay there - if you're lucky, perhaps forever.
In a Better World has won prizes in European festivals, a Golden Globe, and recently the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. But Bier's accomplishment transcends rewards and recognition. How did she do it? In part, by drawing fine performances from a cast of intelligent actors who understood exactly what they were doing. Among the principal characters, there are no villains, no bad guys to distract us from the multitude of moral choices they are asked to make. This is what allows us to inhabit the minds of the characters as they wrestle their options.
Since it takes a while at the beginning to sort the characters, here are the bare bones. Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a doctor who donates part of his time and skill each year to victims of violence in a tent city hospital in Africa. He and his wife Marianne (Trini Dyrholm) who is also a doctor, are separated; their son Elias (Markus Rygaard) is being bullied at school. Klaus (Ulrich Thomsen) has just lost his wife to a long siege with cancer; their son Christian (William Jehnk Nielsen) is suffering from losing his mother; he is a schoolmate of Elias.
Christian, with a child's understanding of his mother's death, is furious at his father who he believes gave up on saving his mother. His anger at the world begets a rage that only vengeance will curb. After befriending Elias at school, Christian undertakes a series of vengeful actions on behalf of Elias and his family that lead in turn to a series of acts with unintended consequences that test the values of everyone involved.
Young Elias represents everyone still on the cusp of a firm value system, tempted by retaliation while knowing it is wrong. His gut instincts will inform his later choices, but for a moment he is a follower. Christian is the hurt sufferer determined to avenge any wrong he sees because he can't avenge the one that is crushing him - the death of his mother. Marianne, after an accident that nearly destroys her family, indulges her rage verbally. Only Anton is secure in the values he has built, and even he is shaken loose of them for a moment by a horrific incident in Africa. If this sounds bewildering, trust that becomes wondrously clear. Every performance here is flawless. Each of the characters is affected for life by the presence of Mikael Persbrandt's Anton who gives his friends and family and all of us in the audience a towering example of what happens when a person refuses to use even justifiable retaliation in response to heartbreak and violence.
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