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Worlds Apart

Coming-of-age drama stumbles through good, bad, and awkward times

Most of the Danish movie In a Better World revolves around two boys, Elias (Markus Rygaard) and Christian (William Johnk Nielsen), whose disparate paths cross when Christian stands up for the picked-on Elias and sends a bully to the hospital.

Under Christian’s wing now, Elias watches helplessly as the two are launched headfirst down a spiral of destruction and escalating vengeance that threatens their own lives and the lives of others.

Countless subplots are thrown in until In a Better World (which won this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar) takes on the tone of a really well-acted school assembly, where overly obvious morality scenarios are acted out in a “good” way and a “bad” way. Director Susanne Bier marches out plot developments not as organic reactions, but as deliberately contrary philosophies forced to go head-to-head in a cage match. --Justin Strout

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