Reviewed by Miranda Schiller @mirandadadada
Andreas seems to have the perfect life: Respected in his job as a police officer, relied on by his friends, he lives in a tastefully decorated house in rural Denmark with his beautiful wife and their new born son. In all areas of life, he is loving, responsible and knows right from wrong.
Such heights would not last long for any character in a film, but especially not if the film is made by Susanne Bier, who seems to specialise in shattering her protagonists’ seemingly cushioned existences. While A Second Chance raises some moral questions about interfering in other people’s family lives, it is mainly about watching Andreas fall and slowly lose everything.
The actual story of the film serves as a vehicle for his downfall more than a narrative for its own sake. Andreas and his police colleague and friend raid the home of a couple of drug addicts and find their neglected baby, covered in its own excrement. Despite the gruesome circumstances, the baby is not in acute danger and no law is available to take it away from its parents, much to Andreas’ distress. So when his own son suddenly dies and his wife freaks out, he decides to steal the junkie couple’s baby and replace it by his dead son. But of course, even a drug addled mother can tell a strange child from her own, a fact that Andreas had neglected to anticipate just as much as his own wife’s reaction to his impulse decision.
The fact that such a ludicrous decision even seems believable at all is entirely down to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s acting. The Game of Thrones star plays the man caught up in his own slow downfall with such intensity that his plight becomes convincing: Andreas has always known right from wrong, but having to face tragic events in his own life for the first time, his sense of judgement tumbles along with everything else. Yet he knows no other way than to take the lead and make decisions, which only leads him to destroy everything he held dear.
To be taken seriously as a social drama, the story in “A Second Chance” seems too contrived and its depiction of social realities too artificial: The stark contrast between the well-to-do middle class couple and its self-destructive addict counterpart leading to their inevitable reversal of good fortune plays out almost like a caricature of this tried and tested kind of storyline. Questions about who should and who should not be allowed to raise children, questions about when and how to interfere in other people’s family life, are constructed too simplistically, and answered too easily.
But thankfully the film focuses on the personal more than on the social. Even against the clumsy backdrop of the film’s unlikely setting, Andreas’ story is grappling, his suffering relatable. His self-assuredness and reliance on his own sense of judgement are the very things that stand in his way when confronted with real challenges. And so, the film quietly introduces a whole other social dimension which is much more subtle: It confronts us with the self-destructive loneliness of a man who has always been in charge. A man who is suddenly at a loss when forced to realise that his good fortune might not have been the result of his own actions and choices, when his sense of judgement, the basis of his self-perception, is tested for the first time.
A Second Chance is on General Release from March 20th.