Susanne Bier's Oscar-winning drama means well, and ought to feel relevant, but there's just something lacking
The title would appear to be a synonym, or euphemism, for "dead" – that is to say, the English title. The original Danish title, Haevnen, means Vengeance. There is certainly a sombreness hanging over this well-intentioned movie from the Danish director Susanne Bier, which arrives here garlanded with praise and this year's Oscar for best foreign film. It has some ideas about rage, respect and revenge which could hardly be more urgent, right about now, in modern Britain.
- In A Better World
- Production year: 2010
- Country: Rest of the world
- Cert (UK): 15
- Runtime: 119 mins
- Directors: Susanne Bier
- Cast: Camilla Gottlieb, Markus Rygaard, Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Wil Johnson
I wished I liked it more. But, for all its good points, this film is a high-concept contrivance of the sort Bier turns out easily, and looks like a faintly preposterous cine-soap opera for haemophiliac-hearted liberals. Its agonised dilemmas and wounds exist only to be resolved within a couple of hours.
Like Bier's 2004 movie Brothers – a soupily emotional contemporary drama which had a Hollywood remake – it is structured around the parallel existence of two men. Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a doctor at an African refugee camp; he is away from home a lot and his marriage is in crisis. Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) is a businessman whose wife has just died of cancer, a catastrophic event which burdened his teenage son Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) with anger and unresolved grief. At school, Christian befriends Anton's son Elias (Markus Rygaard), a victim of bullies. With almost psychopathic insistence, Christian persuades Elias that the only true of course of action is revenge. The movie's most disturbing and shocking scene is a little reminiscent of Christos Tsiolkas's novel The Slap: Anton intervenes in a petty playground quarrel involving Elias's little brother; the other parent furiously smacks Anton's face. Burning with humiliation on his father's behalf, Elias confides in his protector Christian, and things take their course from there.
Patterns of coincidence and correspondence are traced. Anton finds the tackling-the-bully dilemma relevant in his refugee camp; Anton and Claus both find that they are not sufficiently present in their sons' lives – but also that they cannot necessarily be blamed. Thematically, structurally, the symmetries are neat, and predictable. (When Christian takes Elias to the top of a lonely and dangerous grain silo at the beginning, I was reminded of Robert Downey Jr's acid comment on movie narrative in Shane Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: "A TV's on, talking about the new power plant! Wonder where the climax will happen?") And a spectacular criminal act at the end appears to have no legal consequences: these are glossed over in the interests of dewy-eyed reconciliation. The sentiments behind the film are praiseworthy, but it's not quite enough.
agonised : pełen cierpienia
coincidence : zbieg okoliczności
contrivance : sprytny plan, podstęp
dewy-eyed : ckliwy, sentymentalny
garlanded : zwieńczony, nagrodzony
grain silo : silos na zboże
insistence : naleganie, uporczywość
petty : błahy
reconciliation : pojednanie
reminiscent of : przypominający
sombreness : ponurość
soupily : sentymentalnie, ckliwie
sufficiently : wystarczająco, dostatecznie
tackle : zmagać się, zmierzyć się
vengeance : zemsta