Violence seems to follow poor Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), the ruggedly handsome doctor at the center of the Danish import In a Better World. At the African refugee camp where he works, pregnant women are regularly brought to him with their bellies slashed open—yet he insists upon treating the bloodthirsty warlord responsible for those atrocities, as his Hippocratic Oath demands. Back home in Denmark, meanwhile, Anton’s eldest son, Elias (Markus Rygaard), has fallen in with new schoolmate Christian (William Johnk Nielsen), an angry malcontent (with a pointedly ironic name) who believes there’s no problem that a few pipe bombs can’t fix.
Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (Things We Lost in the Fire) clearly intends the juxtaposition of Anton’s sometimes ineffectual nobility and the kids’ increasingly unhinged savagery to make us think hard about whether violence is ever justified, even as retaliation against brutality—not a bad subject for the week after Osama bin Laden’s death. But the scenario plays out so schematically, and builds to such a preposterously uplifting conclusion, that it feels like an elementary school lecture poorly disguised as a drama. Indeed, the film is so cozy and reassuring that it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film a couple of months ago. In a truly better world, that would serve as a recommendation rather than a warning.