When tragedy strikes, how far would you go to set things right? What if a life-changing decision was taken on the base of a good cause but the means by which to achieve it were ultimately wrong – does that make the decision good or bad? These are some of the questions that we, the audience, are confronted with while contemplating Susanne Bier’s latest drama A Second Chance written by Danish-screenwriting-god Anders Thomas Jensen. Bier-Jensen have worked together on several illustrious films which share a riveting melodramatic-tone (In a Better World won Bier the Oscar in 2011, and After the Wedding was nominated in 2007). If on one hand A Second Chance promised yet another emotional exploration of individuals coping with loss and moral uncertainty, on the other it stumbles on a thriller-ish plot which gradually loses credibility as the story progresses and leaves us with just a mildly satisfactory ending.
One day, detectives Andreas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Simon (Ulrich Thomsen) are sent to check on drug addicts Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Sanne (Lykke May Andersen) following a call for domestic disturbance. Amidst the general neglect they find baby Sofus. The social services are called but the baby doesn’t seem to be malnourished, nor he appears to have been hurt, so he cannot be taken away from the parents. Andreas returns home to wife Anna (Maria Bonnevie) and newly-born son Alexander – something is wrong and we come to realise that Anna is on the brink of a severe postpartum depression leaving Andreas to maintain the fragile family balance whilst caring for both his son and his wife. Partner Simon is not a stranger to family drama either, being recently divorced and shunned by his son, leading him to retort to alcohol. Just as Andreas battles to make his colleagues turn to Sofus’ cry for help, his own son, Alexander dies without warning during the night. In the surge of emotions and faced by Anna’s frail state, Andreas takes the unthinkable decision of switching babies – one life for another – and adopts Sofus as his own. From then on it’s a downfall that quickly leads Andreas astray and his life to plunge to new depths of misery.
For A Second Chance, Bier teamed up with frequent collaborators Thomsen and Lie Kaas, whose characters feel rather one-dimensional except from a few instances when we get to see beyond their sketched out roles thanks to the actors’ performances. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau leads the Scandinavian all-star cast with great magnetism – in a story where mothers seem to be lead astray, Andreas offers a beautiful portrayal of fatherhood, despite his arguable choices. The performances are incredibly strong on all fronts – we should note that Senna’s haunting portrayal was brought to the screen by first-time-actor Lykke May Andersen. But no matter how good the cast is, the story begins to stumble on increasingly unbelievable situations in which Andreas’ character seems to be forced-fed lines whose only purpose is to leap the story forward and revolutionise the plot. Things get better towards the end but then the film veers towards a rather odd montage that brings us to a second ending a few years later which, frankly, could have been left out. Shot on location in Fyn, A Second Chance is beautifully photographed by Michael Snyman. The recurring imaginary of the stark wintry landscape adds to an ominous soundtrack to create that chill down your spine as we become increasingly aware that something bad is going to happen.
Being a fan of Bier’s previous explorations of moral complexities in films like Open Hearts and After the Wedding it is a shame that the film took on a (average) thriller turn to the detriment of the human drama and ambiguity. Still, A Second Chance offers charismatic performances throughout and in the end it succeeds in making the audience pose questions as to what’s right and wrong and how thin the line between the two is.
A Second Chance will be available on DVD from Monday 10th August.