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In a Better World

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The Danish drama is staggeringly good, rich in character and emotion.

And in a better world, it wouldn’t be relegated to the single screen on which it opens locally Friday, exclusively at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24. I suspect “Danish drama” conjures up the most boring of images among the minds of moviegoers, but director Susanne Bier’s follow-up to “Things We Lost in the Fire” is anything but dull.

On its surface, the work is about two schoolboys forging a friendship as they cope with an individual loss. His mother dead of cancer, Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) moves from London to a new school, where he defends the dentally challenged Elias (Markus Rygaard) from bullies. To Elias, Christian is, true to his name, a savior — because with his parents splitting, he needs a friend.

Rescue is short-lived as hate sweeps in quickly, like the dust devil in the African desert where Elias’ doctor father performs missionary work, and the story’s true subject reveals itself: violence. It’s about the evil that men do to one another, that kids inflict on each other, and sometimes, that adults do to defenseless children. Wherever such acts occur, their effects are unfortunately universal.

That Bier has pulled two utterly believable performances from Nielsen and Rygaard, neither with a credit to his name beforehand, is a marvel. But they’re just two pieces of a greater puzzle that Bier assembles with extraordinary skill, granting visual elegance to such an ugly subject.

With ease, “In a Better World” has secured a spot on my 10 best list for 2011. Don’t miss it.

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