DVD Review - In a Better World

Susanne Bier is the Danish filmmaker who won her first Oscar for directing this film about two young boys dealing with bullies, both in and outside of school.

While this movie perhaps wouldn't have been my choice for Best Foreign Language Film, which is the Academy Award it earned, I do understand why Oscar voters may have gone for it. Its subject matter is timely, not only around the globe but right here in America.

What the film decides to do with that subject matter is expand it beyond the American headlines of kids who commit suicide due to bullying. It begins with the two young boys in Denmark but soon has us wrestling with politics in Africa as well as with Danish-Swedish bigotry, which are all compelling issues, but, they're distractions from what's going on with the two young boys.

The two boys are Christian and Elias, played respectively by William Johnk Nielsen and Markus Rygaard. Christian is new to Elias' school after having moved there following his mother's death to cancer. Christian notices that Elias is bullied. Elias is called names and has his bike ruined. Christian reluctantly helps and becomes a target for the bullies too.

Immediately, it becomes apparent that the two boys react to the bullying in very different ways. Elias acquiesces. Meanwhile, Christian wants to retaliate. Christian is acting out of anger not just because of these bullies but because of unresolved issues regarding his mother's passing and the blame he ascribes to his father.

Elias' tendency toward anti-violence is clearly the result of his father, Anton. Anton is a doctor who takes trips to Africa to treat people who can't afford or don't have access to healthcare. Anton is a very peaceful and very compassionate man. When pushed, he doesn't push back. His goodwill is tested though when he has to treat a brutal dictator who's raped and murdered several women.

Yet, these episodes with Anton could almost be another film in and of itself. It reinforces the fact that there are bullies everywhere and not just children. Adults can be bullies too, but what would have been more insightful is if the focus had shifted back to the original bullies that tortured Elias, the children. Understanding why they did what they did or at least exploring their motivations would have been more powerful.

Nevertheless, seeing the young boys go from victim to perpetrators was gripping and I thought the two young actors did a good job.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated R for violent and disturbing content and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 58 mins.


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