Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a Swedish doctor working at a Sudanese refugee camp where he treats the victims of a sadistic warlord. Kids like him; they always chase after his truck when he drives away at the end of the day. But one day the warlord comes by for treatment and Anton lets him in the camp and the kids stop cheerfully chasing his truck. Should Anton treat patients without regard for their diabolical actions, or should he let the locals take their revenge on the ugly prick, who anyway just looks really, really evil?
Anton’s estranged wife Marianne (Trine Dyrholm) is a doctor too, but she works and lives in an idyllic Danish town with their kids, one of whom, Elias (Markus Rygaard), gets bullied a lot. But Elias makes pals with new kid Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen), who’s determined to retaliate against all bullies, big and small, with some serious ass-whoopin’. Christian’s mom is dead and dad largely absent, and you know what that means. Kid’s got a bad attitude. It’s just a matter of time before that ass-whoopin’ turns potentially deadly, and an innocent jogger and her jogging daughter get caught in the crossfire and nearly blown up. Revenge, it turns out, is problematic.
I have always imagined Susanne Bier as a very nice person, someone who probably pays careful attention to current events and shops at farmers markets. But artists overwhelmingly driven by social consciousness and concern for their fellow human are tricky animals. They tend to forget that the stories that touch us are formed in the guts and sooner or later wiggle free of strategies; that believable characters don’t conform to the dictates of careful dramaturgy; that didactisism and tidy moral equations tend to have the opposite of their desired effect. (Though they sure can scoop up Oscars!) Working once more with screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, Bier’s latest is a pretty shameless piece of white-Euro-hand-wringing in which nothing escapes the author’s determination to say Something Important About the World and still make nice in the end, however improbably. Bier, whose previous films include After the Wedding and Brothers, has obvious craft and talent; she can sometimes create marvelous moments with her actors; but in this case, she’s forcing everything so much your teeth will ache.