In a Better World (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 20, 2011 by  

“In a Better World” is very much deserving of the Oscar for “Best Foreign Language Film”.  It truly is a powerful, thought-provoking yet wonderful film that must be watched.  Highly recommended!

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TITLE: In a Better World (Hævnen)


DURATION: 104 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (widescreen 2:35:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, French 2.0 LTRt DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

RATED: R (For Violent and Disturbing Content Some Involving Preteens and for Language)

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: August 30, 2011

Directed by Susanne Bier

Written by Anders Thomas Jensen

Produced by  Sisse Graum Jorgensen

Executive Produced by Peter Aalbaek Jensen

Line Producer: Karen Bentzon

Music by Johan Soderqvist

Cinematography by Morten Soborg

Edited by Pernille Bech Christensen, Morten Egholm

Casting by Lene Seested

Production Design by Peter Grant

Set Decoration by Lene Ejlersen, Mathias Holmgreen

Costume Design by Manon Rasmussen


Mikael Persbrandt as Anton

Ulrich Thomsen as Claus

Trine Dyrholm as Marianne

William Johnk Nielsen as Christian

Markus Rygaard as Elias

Toke Lars Bjarke as Morten

Wil Johnson as Najeeb

Eddy Kimani as Patient

Emily Mulaya as Sygeplejerske

Gabriel Muli as Laege

June Waweru as Sygeplejerske

Dynah Bereket as Gammel dame

Elsebeth Steentoft as Signe

Satu Helena Mikkelinen as Hanna

Camilla Gottlieb as Eva

Simon Maagaard Holm as Sofus

Martin Buch as Niels

Anette Stovelbaek as Hanne

A provocative film that explores the difficult choices between revenge and forgiveness, In a Better World follows two Danish families and the unusual and dangerous friendship that develops between them. Bullied at school, Elias is defended by Christian, a boy greatly troubled over his mother’s death. So when the two become involved in an act of revenge with potentially tragic consequences, it’s their parents who are left to help them come to terms with the complexity of human emotions, pain and empathy in this 2010 Academy Award® and Golden Globe® winner for Best Foreign Film.

Powerful, thought-provoking and an amazing film!

From the award winning Danish film director Susanne Bier (“Brothers”, “After the Wedding”, “Things We Lost”) comes “Hævnen” (in Dutch which means “Revenge”) or better known for the US release as “In a Better World”, the Academy Award winner of the “Best Foreign Language Film of the Year” of 2011 but also multiple-award winning film around the world.

Directed by Bier and featuring a screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen (“The Duchess”, “Brothers”, Adam’s Apples”), the film’s title “Hævnen” depicts the seriousness of bullying and taking revenge, “In a Better World” is also an appropriate but different title to show hope for the characters of the film.

The film revolves around two families that are broken.

The first family features a Swedish doctor named Anton (played by Mikael Persbrandt), who lives in Denmark but works in a Sudanese refugee camp.  In Sudan, he tries to help all the people he can but he notices many women who are being slit open to die and according to the people, the person responsible is warlord known as “Big Man”.

Anton is the father of two boys and his 12-year-old son Elias (played by Markus Rygaard) is having a tough time in school.  Often bullied because he is Swedish (note: Denmark and Sweden don’t have the greatest relationship since the 1800’s and some Danish people are prejudice towards the Swedes) and is called “rat face”.

His bullying is so bad that without his father home, it has been a rocky relationship between Elias and his mother Marianne (played by Trine Dyrholm).  Both of his parents are separated and are in the process of divorcing because Anton had an affair.  But because Elias is having difficulties at school, Marianne places the fault on the bullying, while the school places the blame not just the bullying but also an absent father and unstable family due to the divorce.

The other family focuses on Claus (played by Ulrich Thomsen) and his 12-year-old son Christian (played by William Johnk Nielsen) who are grieving due to the death of Christian’s mother (she died of cancer).  Both have moved from London to  Denmark and Christian blames his father for his mother’s death.  For Claus, he loved his wife and although they thought she was close to beating cancer, by the late stage of cancer, she found it too painful and both decided it was time for her to go.  Unfortunately, all Christian thinks is his father let her die and he is deeply angered by it.

And since his father is mostly at work, Christian has turned to shooting video games and pretty much has been distant with his father.

On the first day of school, Christian notices a group of Danish kids bullying Elias.  As the new kid at school, Christian sits next to Elias and the two become friends.  But he learns that the kids at school often flatten his tires and when the leader of the group of bullies sees Christian hanging out with Elias and when they ask why he would hang around with him, Christian defends his new friend.  In return, the bully throws a basketball at Christian’s face.

The next day at school, Elias is once again bullied and when the bully tries to approach Elias alone at school, Christian gets his bike pump and beats the bully with it and gets a knife out and puts it on the boy’s neck, warning him that if he tries to hurt either of them, he will be killed.

The boy tells the authorities and both Christian and Elias are being questioned about the use of a knife.  But Elias protects his new friend and tells them there was no knife and sure enough, both do not get into any trouble.

Needless to say, the beating of the boy by Christian and Elias concerns both of their parents but they don’t think anything of it and both Christian and Elias become good friends.

But one day, as Anton took his sons and Christian for kayaking, his younger son gets into a fight with another boy over swings.  The father of the other boy starts bullying Anton and starts slapping him in front of his sons and Christian.  The boys want him to call the police but Anton just lets it go.

Christian then shows Elias a tall silo where he likes to hang out and be alone.  While waiting up there, they see the man who slapped Anton and both go back down and see his business on the side of his car.   Because Elias wants his father to do something about the man who slapped him, Anton wants to show his kids including Christian that fighting is not the answer and that they can settle things by talking.

But as they visit the man at his autoshop, the man shows his dislike towards Swedes and begins slapping Anton over and over but Anton doesn’t fight.  Anton tries to tell his kids that he stood up to the man without fighting but the kids feel that his father got bullied and Christian feels the same way.  That Anton may feel good about standing up without fighting, but possibly the other guy feels good for making fun of someone weak.

One day as Christian and Elias begin working on their science project, Christian finds fireworks and a lot of gun powder and comes up with an idea, using a website on how to make bombs, why not teach the man who bullied Anton a lesson by blowing up his car.

As for Anton, he returns back to Sudan for work and suddenly the group of terrorists led by The Big Man come to the refugee camp demanding Anton to fix his leg (which is in bad shape).   When Anton is told that the Big Man is the man who is responsible for cutting up all the women, he notices that everyone in the refugee camp are cowering into fear.  But because of his dedication as a doctor, should he treat the man responsible for hurting all his patients?

Anton knows he is in predicament where he must help the bully of Sudan, but being a man who rather talk and not fight back, what happens when The Big Man starts to tease Anton and makes fun of the women, men and children who died in his hands?

What will happen to Christian and Elias when they attempt to set a bomb and blow up the bullying father’s van?  And will Anton treat the bully that will probably continue to rape and kill  innocent people?


“In a Better World” is presented in 1080p High Definition (widescreen 2:35:1) and the picture quality of the film is fantastic!  From the Sudan scenes, we can see the grime, dirt and sweat on the people with great clarity.  You can see the details of the skin, natural surroundings and the same back in Denmark as we see many closeups of the character’s faces.

Cinematography by Morten Søborg is wonderful.  We get a good balance of artistic, beautiful shot scenes and the picture quality captures the vibrancy of the sunlight and surroundings during the daylight but also effectively showcasing the darkness of shadows and the night.

Overall, picture quality is excellent for the film and I detected no artifacts, no banding, no problems whatsoever!


“In a Better World” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA and French 2.0 LTRt DTS-HD MA.  The lossless audio soundtrack features a dialogue-driven track but also a beautiful score by Johan Söderqvist.  While dialogue and music come from the center and front-channels, there are moments in the film where there is good use of LFE and the surround channels.  Primarily when both Elias and Christian are using the bombs but also during the Sudanese scenes as the terrorist start driving crazily and start shooting their machine guns.

So, those action moments are what you hear mostly through the surround channels, but the film is primarily dialogue-driven and is crystal clear!

Subtitles are in  English, English SDH and French.


“In a Better World” comes with the following special features:

  • Commentary with Director Susanne Bier & Editor Pernille Bech Christensen  – Featuring an in-depth commentary by director Susanne Bier and the film’s editor Pernille Bech Christensen.  The two discuss the process of shooting various scenes in Denmark and Kenya and also perspectives of editing the film and more.
  • Interview with Susanne Bier – (15:53) An interview with Susanne Bier about the film and the talent of the film.
  • Deleted Scenes – (7:30) A total of seven deleted scenes.
  • Trailer – (2:02) The original theatrical trailer for “In a Better World”.
“In a Better World: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack” comes with the Blu-ray and DVD version of the film.

Susanne Bier has directed a few wonderful and memorable films, but “In a Better World” is definitely her best film yet.

“In a Better World” is a powerful and thought-provoking film.  For one, it’s a film that takes on topics of bullying but also the psychological trauma for young children who have lost a parent or parents who are in the process of divorce and the difficult choices one must make as a parent and a human being when one is bullied or when one comes across a person who inflicts harm on others.

Personally, I had no idea of the bullying of Danish towards Swedes.  Watching the film, to see the Danish characters have this prejudice towards the Swedes, from the way they look and the way they talk, at first I was thinking that maybe it was a bit farfetched but with research online, I’ve started to learn that both Denmark and Sweden have not been the friendliest countries towards each other for over two centuries.

What I loved about the film is how real it felt.  The acting of the two children Christian (played by William Johnk Nielsen) and Elias (played by Markus Rygaard) was magnificent.  With child actors playing a role where they are victimized and become somewhat of the aggressors, was quite provocative and also intriguing.  The character of Christian seems to be such a well-mannered boy until we start to learn of how much anger he has inside of him because of his mother dying of cancer and of course, the father supporting her decision to not prolong her life.

For a young boy, a death of his mother is a terrible thing and you literally feel Christian’s pain.  As we do with Elias, the Swedish boy who is bullied.  Elias follows Christian because he is the boy who saved his life, the boy who became his friend and because of his strength of not letting anyone hurt people.  But what Elias and Christian feel is misguided.

As Anton tries to teach his children that fighting is not right, we can see why the boys are disappointed when Anton confronts the man who bullied and hit him and just stood there and took more blows.  As Anton tries to prove that no one can tear you down unless you let it.  But for the boys, what they see is visual… having gone through bullying themselves and not liking it, seeing grownups do it to another grownup is just as terrible.

Even if Anton is trying to show a positive that fighting is not right, the boys find it a hard to take it in…  Why don’t you call the police?  Why don’t you beat him up?  Why do you let someone do that to you?

And for Elias, being the meek one, he wants his father to do something about it but Elias is like his father.  Not the person to be proactive about it, but around Christian, it’s like a hero willing to conquer evil.  But in this case, the stakes are too high… blowing up the aggressor’s car.  Elias knows its wrong but he doesn’t want to lose his friendship with Christian nor does he like what happened to his father.

Meanwhile, it’s an interesting juxtaposition for Elias’ father Anton, in the Sudanese refugee camps, having to operate on young women who have been savagely maimed by a warlord known as the Big Man but then being forced to treat the warlord responsible for the crimes and suffering of the people.

Anton struggles this.  Unlike what happened in Denmark, there is no standing up to the aggressor.

And when Anton hears the jokes coming out of the Big Man’s mouth about the women, men and children they have killed but most of all, to make the women he maimed and killed, making them out to be nothing but playthings and not human beings, Anton is now pushed to point where he may do something drastic, similar to what his son and Elias are planning.

The Blu-ray comes with a few special features but also one very good interview along with an in-depth commentary.  The picture quality of the film is amazing on Blu-ray and the vibrant colors and detail will definitely satisfy viewers and also the film has a solid lossless soundtrack.  While the film does have its fair share of action moments that do utilize the surround channels, because of the nature of the film, it’s pretty much a dialogue-driven soundtrack.

“In a Better World” is wonderful film and although I’m not sure if I can call this Susanne Bier’s masterpiece, we know that the filmmaker has so much yet to give in her career and things have just gotten better and better.  But do feel that this is one extraordinary film that must be watched.

Wonderfully written, wonderfully acted and one thing that I have liked is filmmaker Susanne Bier and editor Pernille Bech Christensen’s working relationship as both really do compliment each other’s work.  By looking at the deleted scenes and seeing how much different the film could have been if they included those scenes, I’m pretty happy that Pernille is strong enough to communicate with Susanne about scenes that needed cutting.  You can tell by listening to the audio commentary of their working dynamic and why it has worked so well for them in the past.

Overall, “In a Better World” is very much deserving of the Oscar for “Best Foreign Language Film”.  It truly is a powerful, thought-provoking yet wonderful film that must be watched.  Highly recommended!

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  • Smarterthanyourass

    Heavnen means revenge in DANISH!