Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Video review: "In A Better World"
A surprise winner of the Oscar for best foreign language film, "In A Better World" got a bigger emotional reaction out of me than any other movie I've seen in the last year. It's a story about boys and men, about pacifism and aggression, and how responding to violence with violence may be the most satisfying thing, but it nearly always begets more of the same.
Danish director Susanne Bier, screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen and the cast strike a perfect balance between rage and heartbreak. The story centers around two 12-year-old boys, Elias (Markus Rygaard) and Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen), who are bullied at school and burdened with fathers who are largely absent.
Christian stands up for Elias at school, in a shocking escalation of violence that exposes the boys to the power they can wield. On that flip side is the lesson of Christian's father, Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), a doctor who faces off with an adult antagonist in an entirely different, and braver, way.
No character in the film is entirely beneficent or truly irredeemable. Even Anton, a healer by vocation and temperament, is shown to be capable of hurting those closest to him. We also sense that his confrontation, while ostensibly a lesson in non-violence for the boys, is as much for Anton's own benefit, reassuring himself of the choices he's made.
The performances by Rygaard and Nielsen are stark and unornamented, and represent some of the best film performances by child actors you're ever likely to see.
"In A Better World" perfectly captures what it's like to be a boy on the verge of manhood, and tempted by both limitless good and irrepressible evil.
Video extras, which are the same for DVD and Blu-ray editions, are solid without bowling us over.
There's a feature-length commentary track by director Bier and editor Pernille Bech Christiansen, an interview with Bier and several deleted scenes.
Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 3 stars out of four