In A Better World

In A Better World


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

When it comes to portayals of the trials and tribulations of youngsters trying to find their way in a world where adults don't quite pull their weight - the Scandinavians, and particularly Swedish filmmakers, have it covered. And so in the wake of We Shall Overcome, King Of Ping Pong and Let The Right One In comes Susanne Bier's Oscar winner, which is good but bites off more than it can chew.

The title - Haevnen - directly translates from Swedish as The Revenge and that is much more apt than the rather wooly In A Better World. Presumably someone thought it all sounded a bit too horror flick for English language speakers, so softened it up to something considered more suitable for sensitive arthouse types.

But if the title has changed the subject matter - revenge in all its forms - remains the same.

Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) is a troubled kid. Adrift since the death of his mum, he has the sort of inner rage with no place to go that is likely to spell trouble before the final reel. Unable to connect with his often-absent businessman dad (Ulrich Thomsen), he finds an unexpected bond with Elias (Markus Rygaard) a kid at his new school. He is the polar opposite to Christian in temperament, being a shy and retiring sort but Elias also has problems on the home front - his dad is frequently away in Africa, working as a doctor in a free clinic and has also recently separated from his mum (Trine Dyrholm). Elias has the sort of personality that makes him perfect for bullies - until Christian steps in to offer an over-the-top defence, assuring Elias that by hitting back hard the bullying will stop.

As the kids are navigating the moral maze of revenge in the schoolyard, Elias's dad Anton is facing a similar - though more violently-charged - dilemma courtesy of a local warlord out in Africa. While back on leave he tries to show the kids that it is possible to settle arguments non-violently but both he and the boys find that a tough rule to stick to.

The microcosm of the children's world is exceptionally well drawn, with Bier illustrating how easy it can be for youngsters to focus on an act of almost God-like vengeance without considering the potential consequences. The African side of the equation, however, is much more problematic. Scenes showing Anton trying to get to grips with the poor and needy never feel as though they are part of the same film as that inhabited by Elias and Anton. And the suggestion that his moral dilemma equates in some way to that of the children is all a little too pat. Still, Nielsen and Rygaard create such bruised but beautiful characters that you cleave to them, willing them to change course or, at least, have the chance to make better choices in future.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2011
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Two children form a bond that could spell trouble.
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Director: Susanne Bier

Writer: Susanne Bier, Anders Thomas Jensen

Starring: Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, William Jøhnk Nielsen, Markus Rygaard, Wil Johnson, Eddie Kihani, Emily Mglaya, Gabriel Muli, June Waweru, Mary Hounu Moat, Synah Berchet, Elsebeth Steentoft, Satu Helena Mikkelinen, Camilla Gottlieb

Year: 2010

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Denmark

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If you like this, try:

We Shall Overcome