Following the funeral, pre-teen Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) and his father Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) relocate to Denmark from London. Claus will commute to London while Claus’s mother watches Christian.
On his first day at school, Christian witnesses a peer being bullied by a group of much bigger boys. The bullied boy Elias (Markus Rygaard) ends up in Christian’s class. The two learn they share a birthday, sit together and begin a friendship. After school, the bullies await Elias. Christian calmly comes to his rescue, gets a basketball pummeled at his face and ends up with a bloody mess of a nose. He goes home, escapes into his shoot-‘em-up video game. He tells his father nothing as their fractured relationship continues to worsen.
Christian returns to wield revenge and send a message to his opportunistic bullies. The school calls in Christian’s dad and Elias’s mother Marianne (Trine Dyrholm) who is upset; the school hasn’t done anything to keep her son safe from bullying and now they are accusing him of conspiring against the bully. Elias’s father Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) works abroad in Africa as a doctor in a refugee camp and is gone for long periods. He’s a pacifist and it has rubbed off on Elias who until Christian’s intervention took the violence.
On one of Anton’s visits back, he takes Elias and Christian into town. Anton gets into an altercation with a man at a park. The man lashes out at Anton. Christian seethes at the injustice and disrespect. He urges Anton to exact revenge. Anton explains that remaining calm is the right way; that peace wins in the face of violence, much the way he conducts himself against the barbarity he witnesses in Africa.
Christian cannot accept it. Already struggling with his mother’s death and feelings about his father’s behavior during her illness, his rage explodes and pushes him toward irreparable violence.
The movie examines the effects of bullying on friendships, relationships between fathers and sons, the expectations of men in society and interplay between bullies and victims. Bier is a master of digging deeply into the messy swamp of people’s compulsions, fears and desires. The acting is terrific, especially from the two young leads. Elias displays the emotive side of fear and confusion, while Christian portrays the middle-aged seething at life’s injustices from the perspective of a young man.
Director: Susanne Bier
Run time: 118 minutes