A Second Chance
Written by Anders Thomas Jensen
Directed by Susanne Bier
Oscar-winning Danish director Susanne Bier’s latest film is an emotionally-charged thriller, centered on a successful police officer who has recently started a family. Andreas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his wife Anna (Maria Bonnevie) are coming to terms with their new lives as parents, struggling to adapt to their baby’s challenging sleeping patterns and find time to spend alone together. However, they are devoted parents who are raising their baby in idyllic circumstances, with absolute financial security and a stunning lakeside home.
Andreas is reminded just how good they have it when he is called to a domestic incident involving a junkie, Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), who he sent to prison on a previous assignment. Tristan’s partner, Sanne (May Andersen), tries to block Andreas from entering their bathroom, but, when he forces his way through, he discovers their own newborn son lying in its own excrement. His paternal instinct kicks in and he cleans the baby there and then, before trying to get it removed into care. His appeal is dismissed on the grounds that the baby is healthy but he returns home to Anna more determined than ever to be as good a father as he can.
Shortly after this incident, tragedy strikes and Andreas makes a decision that is as ludicrous as it is reckless, one that has serious repercussions for everybody involved. It is best to go into the film knowing as little as possible, given that the plot relies on dramatic twists and revelations. However, more often than not, the surprises result from sheer implausibility, veering the narrative further and further from solid ground. As well as damaging the film’s credibility, the constant changes in focus make it impossible to fully engage with each element as it comes. Penned by prolific screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, A Second Chance has a fascinating central premise but ultimately feels like a thought experiment which got out of hand.
Coster-Waldau carries the film reasonably well, dragging his character through the full emotional spectrum, but the supporting cast are always battling against the script. Kaas’s Tristan suffers the most, never being allowed to develop into anything more than a caricature – he is the kind of guy who berates his partner for attempting to feed their screaming baby, then pins her down and forcibly injects her with heroin. Only Ulrich Thomsen, who plays Andreas’s alcoholic partner, Simon, and first-time actress Andersen wholly succeed in making their characters believable.
Despite the complex subject matter, A Second Chance plays out like a conventional thriller. It relies on binary contrasts, such as that between the two families – one is shot in sunlight, the other in shadows and filth. Recurring images of water and sky add only equivocal value, hinting vaguely towards the moral ambiguity which is eventually reached in the conclusion. Crucially, Bier fails to establish psychological realism, leaving the film with little depth or integrity. There were opportunities to make interesting points about the complexities of mental health and social care, but all were passed over in favor of adding further revolutions to the plot. As a result, the film keeps you guessing to the end but you are unlikely to give it a second chance.
– Rob Dickie