In a Better World, or How to wring your hands on two continents

Remember the series of ER in which several of the earnest doctors – was it Carter and Kovacs and another whose name escapes me? – took themselves off to ‘war-torn Africa?’ There they could continue to grapple with urgent issues of life, death, and personal responsibility, clear of the fatty acids of their domestic lives. Africa is good like that. Big themes, big landscapes. Troubles back home in the developed world are made small by comparison.

Susanne Bier’s Oscar-winning drama, ‘In a Better World‘ tries to have the best of both: twinning a tranquil island in Denmark with a desert somewhere in Africa. Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) has to deal with bullies on two continents, albeit on radically different scales. An evil warlord who delights in ripping open young women, but turns out to be nothing without his gang; and a boorish mechanic who just won’t be told. So, Anton’s son, Christian decides to deal with the mechanic himself – having previously sorted out a school bully using the time-honoured direct method. (Yes, it’s all about bullies.) But Christian’s increasing obsession with violence blinds him to its dangers.

The result is a slick, intelligent drama, with handsome photography and weighty themes, but not a single interesting image in almost two hours.

Still, it’s an slight improvement on her previous continent-straddling melodrama, ‘After The Wedding‘.

In a Better World‘ will be released in UK cinemas on August 19th.

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