A Second Chance. Film Review

DIRECTOR: Susanne Bier
SCREENPLAY: Anders Thomas Jensen (Story co-written by Bier)
STARRING: Niklaj Coster-Waldau, Ulrich Thomsen, Maria Bonnevie, Nikolaj Lie Kass, Lykke May Andersen

Reviewed by Guy Adams

Comedy, tragedy, thriller… The structure is all but identical, characters caught in a constantly closing narrative as circumstances drive them further and further into desperation. The only difference is the effect on the audience and A Second Chance is affecting indeed.

The ever-reliable Susanne Bier (A Better World) and her long-time screenwriting partner Jensen, have crafted a moral thriller about two families. On one side we have the seemingly perfect Andreas (Coster-Waldau), a successful cop and new father. He and his wife Anne (Bonnevie) are struggling with the weight of parenthood and their infant, Alexander, crying all night long, is testing their patience to the limits. But his life is precious, it’s fragile, terrifyingly so. On the other side we have drug addict Tristan (Kass) and his girlfriend Sanne (Andersen), broken people with a child that lies frequently uncared for on the bathroom floor, an after thought to their own crippled lives.

When Andreas is called to Tristan’s home after sounds of violence, he’s shocked by the apparent mistreatment of the baby and determined that social services should take it away. As the child isn’t undernourished and medically healthy, social services refuse to act.

Then tragedy strikes for Andreas and Anne and he makes a decision.

With each fresh turn of the screw, the movie becomes more and more excruciating and the performances of the cast carry us along through a nightmarish story that could have crumbled into absurdity in lesser hands. As the narrative trap closes it becomes a suffocating but powerful experience, finally resolved with a surprisingly simple – yet perfect – resolution.

On initial release, some critics were rather sniffy of the extreme emotional heights the film drags us through, critical of the film for being overly manipulative, which is like dismissing a comedy for being too funny. A Second Chance sets out to put its characters – and therefore its audience – through the wringer and succeeds admirably, a taut, gripping movie and another great success for Bier and Jensen.