Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Ulrich Thomsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas
After a regular raid on the home of a violent drug addict, Police detective Andreas (Coster-Waldau) discovers that living in the property is a neglected new born baby. Despite his fears for the baby’s life, the authorities do nothing, and after an unthinkable tragedy occurs in his personal life, Andreas resorts to a desperate act as the lines between what is right and wrong become increasingly blurred.
Anyone who is familiar with Susanne Bier’s previous work will know she is at her most effective best when telling stories that seemingly contain in isolation quite simplistic narratives but encompass within them stories of everyday people dealing with often emotionally devastating experiences. The stories themselves are perhaps a little simplistic and clichéd in isolation, but it is Bier’s incredible ability to give us characters to truly care about that makes her film’s so emotionally engaging, and at times truly heart breaking. Ultimately, if we are given characters that we really care about, then we will go with whatever the narrative throws at them, and Susanne Bier is most definitely a director that excels at this.
In terms of its narrative developments, A Second Chance is almost Dickensian in how neat and tidy everything is and how a small groups of characters are all so closely connected. However this does allow us to focus on the film’s complex characters and their own unique individual issues, and as this is a Susanne Bier film they all naturally have dark issues, some of which are given more examination than others.
Well the one character that seemingly doesn’t have any issues is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Andreas, but of course his seemingly content existence is inevitably soon completely destroyed by tragedy. It is at this point that the narrative not only effectively puts the audience right in his situation and asks moral questions of both his character and us, but it also leads to an almost Dostoyevsky influenced narrative with the moral that even if a crime is committed with the purist of intentions, it is still a crime and this crime will be punished in some way.
It is this action from our protagonist that offsets a snowball-like series of increasingly dark developments, and in the hands of lesser talented filmmaker could easily descend into feeling like lazy cliché. However thanks to Bier’s talent as a filmmaker to always restrain her films from feeling too melodramatic, it means that this and the excellent performances mean we genuinely care for the protagonist which makes for engaging and heart breaking viewing, as well as providing many moments of genuine tension. We are perfectly aware of the morality of what is going on, but the fact we route for Andreas means we share his deep inner turmoil and conflict. As it is his decisions that solely drives the narrative, our deep sympathy for his character means every development, though increasingly dark, means we share his increasing feelings of isolation and paranoia, and it makes for nothing less than engaging and intense viewing.
In the leading role Coster-Waldau is excellent, capturing the increasing desperation of Andreas’ character perfectly. It is most definitely a shame that A Second Chance, despite featuring its well-known Game of Thrones star, was seen by pretty much no-one while cinematic detritus’s like The Other Woman that in no way showcased his talent as an actor did very well. In typical Susanne Bier fashion, every character has a dark and depressing backstory, and despite their excellent performances, big name Scandinavian actors Ulrich Thomsen and Nikolaj Lie Kaas are excellent, but their characters deserve more screen time, as hints at their backstories feel a little unsatisfying (especially Thomsen’s character). Likewise Maria Bonnevie’s performance as Andreas’ troubled wife is excellent, but her character lacks development that justifies her actions, which do ultimately have a huge effect on the narrative.
It certainly has its flaws and clichés, and though it is not up there with her very best, A Second Chance is yet another cautionary and ultimately depressing morality tale from Susanne Bier. It is yet another film that emphasises her strength as a filmmaker to give us a protagonist to care about and genuinely feel their life-changing and often tragic and devastating narrative experiences. A Second Chance will most certainly not leave even the most eternally optimistic viewer in a good mood, but it is yet another genuinely engaging superb piece of character driven misery cinema from Susanne Bier.
Another superb (but admittedly depressing) piece of character driven cinema from Susanne Bier; A Second Chance certainly has a fair few narrative clichés, but is a deeply engaging and superbly acted character-driven morality tale.