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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revenge and Forgiveness: Melodramatic and Compelling, October 1, 2011
This review is from: In a Better World (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Blu-ray)
"In a Better World," an Oscar-winning Danish-Swedish drama (Best Foreign Language Film for 2010), follows two thematically-related stories set in different locations: Africa and Denmark. Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a Swedish doctor who had moved to Denmark, but now lives in Africa as a dedicated member of a group providing medical services in a refugee camp. But the people in the camp are horrified by "Big Man," a sadistic warlord cutting up pregnant women.

In the meanwhile, Anton's son Elias (Markus Rygaard) and a new boy at school Christian (William Jøhnk Juels Nielsen) become friends when Christian beats up a schoolboy bullying Elias. Christian's mother recently died of cancer, and the strained relationship with his father Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) is not getting better.

Then two things happen: Anton is humiliated by a mechanic Lars (Kim Bodnia), who slaps him in the face, and though Anton tells the boys to ignore him, Christian disagrees. (The Danish film's original title "Hævnen" means "revenge.") And in Africa, when the "Big Man," now severely injured, is brought to the camp, an idealist Anton's belief is tested.

The plot gets markedly melodramatic as the film moves into the second half, where the two boys and their parents have to face the consequences of their actions. Acting is unanimously strong, especially from the two boys, and director Susanne Bier handles the convoluted story skillfully.

Or maybe she does it too skillfully. The film wraps everything up too neatly, and while we understand the point she is trying to make by juxtaposing two events at totally different places, I'm afraid the melodramatic narrative may be oversimplifying the complexity of the issues the film is dealing with.

Like her previous works (including "After the Wedding" and "Brothers"), Susanne Bier tells us a story of people in an extraordinary situation, and she is quite good at it. These stories are often very emotional but not sentimental. Flawed as it is, "In a Better Place" is a compelling drama with believable characters.
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Location: Kyoto, Japan

Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,612