IN A BETTER WORLD *****
You rarely get to call a movie perfect, but sometimes one just is. Susanne Bier (After The Wedding, Brothers, Open Hearts) is one of the more thoughtful filmmakers in the world, and here, working from an original script by Anders Thomas Jensen (who wrote the above three films as well), she displays all her powers of intelligence, thoughtfulness, compassion and dramatic comprehension. A doctor, Anton (Mikael Persbrandt, in an astonishing, complete performance) works some parts of the year in Africa at a remote medical camp, but finds the moral and ethical challenges there no more exacting than those he experiences, on a quieter scale, in dealing with a bullying situation at his son’s school back in Denmark. Titled Revenge (Hævnen) in its Danish release, the film certainly examines that concept, as well as definitions (and personal expectations) of masculinity – something that runs strongly through Bier’s work – as well as notions of national and family identity. Bier now claims to prefer the new title, but I think Revenge sums up the themes of the story more – although, believe me, this is no Mel Gibson-style take on the subject (eg Payback, Ransom); it examines revenge as a towering notion and gazes at it from every angle, taking in responsibility, humiliation, misdirected anger, righteousness, grief, legality, ignorance and hate. If it’s a thriller, it’s a thriller of conscience. Whipping along with the agility and grace of a gazelle, powered by outstanding performances all round (including those of the two young boys in the center of the story), In A Better World won this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film – the most obviously deserving award of the night. Completely, unquestionably recommended.
NEVER LET ME GO ***
It’s a shame when one over-riding directorial choice undermines an otherwise fantastic movie, but that’s precisely what’s happening in Mark Romanek’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s magnificent novel Never Let Me Go (screenplay by the excellent Alex Garland). Exquisitely acted by Best Youngish Actor In The World Carey Mulligan, Next Spiderman Andrew Garfield and Better Than You Think She Is Keira Knightley; gorgeously (and chillingly) shot by Adam Kimmel; emanating from bold, original and highly moving source material; and crammed with extremely moving individual scenes and sequences, the Should Be Practically Perfect movie suffers from the overwhelming melancholic tone that is so consistent throughout as to render the experience depressing rather than sad, and, unfortunately, a little flat. There is no denying the heartbreaking content of the story, and the trio of SuperBrit actors are absurdly good at portraying a version of humanity that is at once as close and as far to “us” as a “science-fiction love story” could hope to achieve. Set in an alternative version of our own history, the three young leads play three orphan friends who discover, and deal with, their origins and destiny, alongside having to deal with the normal stuff – like desire, love, jealousy and sacrifice. Making brilliant use of superb locations, weather patterns, costuming and music, I can only imagine the reason this fine film did poorly at the US box office last year was the reputation that must have gotten out that “It’s a downer.” And it is a downer – a heavy downer – there’s absolutely no denying that. I recommend it highly, but not if you’re looking at something light to cheer you up.