In a Better World Movie Review
After his mother dies, 12-year-old Christian (Nielsen) and his father Claus (Thomsen) move from London back to Denmark. Christian is angry at the world, and lashes out at the bully (Holm) in his new school. He befriends the bullied Elias (Rygaard), whose parents Marianne and Anton (Dyrholm and Persbrandt) are splitting up, partly because Anton spends large periods of time working as a doctor in rural Africa. Then after a local bigot (Bodnia) slaps Anton, Christian hatches a plan to get revenge in a very violent way.
Indeed, the original title means "revenge", and the film explores how far the five central characters can go before they snap. Each of these people is so complex that we're never quite sure what they might do as they're pushed to the brink by things like everyday peer pressure, rampant machismo and encounters with authorities in school and society. And while the scenes in Africa seem like an aside, they add a startling slant on the film's overall theme.
The film is beautifully shot and edited, with a subtle musical score and quietly clever direction that continually rattles us. This intimate approach brings out staggering performances, revealing inner resilience in complex situations. Nielsen has the most difficult role, walking a fine line between a grieving boy and a full-on sociopath. Will he grow up to be a thoughtless idiot like Bodnia's thug, or can he learn from his mistakes?
Bier assuredly shifts the film's tone from warm drama to dark intensity to all-out horror, while never abandoning the tight focus on the characters.
Scenes atop a local silo are fraught with potential tragedy, while scuffles between children are echoed in scarier clashes between adults. Each relationship is a bundle of expectations and recriminations that are never simplified. And as the events escalate, the film never overstates its central message about Western society and the culture of revenge that we are falling into.