A Second Chance movie review: cops and fathers

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A Second Chance green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

An impossible tragedy, a movie that confounds all expectations and is full of a terrible suspense. You have never seen a cop movie like this before.
I’m “biast” (pro): big fan of Susanne Bier and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I can’t tell you too much about this movie, but I can tell you this: you have never seen a cop movie like this before. It takes on the near-guise of tough-guy crime drama we’re all too familiar with, but A Second Chance, from Danish director Susanne Bier (Serena) and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen (they previously worked together on Love Is All You Need), ends up a demanding challenge to some deeply ingrained preconceived notions about fundamental human goodness and badness, of moral rights and wrongs, of the foundations of love and parenthood. This is an impossible tragedy on multiple levels, a movie that confounds all expectations and is full of a terrible suspense that has been haunting me since I first saw it at the London Film Festival last autumn. A second viewing last week confirmed it for me: this is even more heartstoppingly difficult when you know what’s coming.

And I can’t say too much more. I’m verging on spoiling when I say that here we have Andreas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau: A Thousand Times Good Night, The Other Woman), a police detective in the Danish countryside. He and his wife, Anna (Maria Bonnevie: The 13th Warrior), have what seems to be an idyllic life, including a new baby… which makes him extra sensitive when it comes to a case he’s involved in with violent, abusive drug addict Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas: Angels & Demons), who also has a newborn with defeated and beaten-down Sanne (May Andersen): what Andreas discovers in their squalid apartment is the most horrific depiction of child neglect I’ve ever seen on film.

Yes, there are things here, visually and emotionally, that are not for the faint of heart, even if they are far from the most graphic things you might witness in a movie. For what happens at the intersection of the worlds of these two little families, so diametrically opposite, is outrageous, almost unthinkable. It wouldn’t work if Coster-Waldau didn’t sell it, and he does, magnificently, in the most heartbreaking way imaginable. (Here’s one clue that’s no spoiler: I have never seen a man be this tender with a baby onscreen, certainly not in a way that is so fundamental to the story.) He has moments here where his Andreas pauses to consider what he’s doing, and without any dialogue at all or another actor to play off of, Coster-Waldau conveys to us a turmoil of confused uncertainty even as he forges forward.

This is so unusual, even unlikely, a story that in less capable hands — I include Bier’s sensitive touch here as well — A Second Chance would be a sensationalistic disaster. Instead, it is a triumph not only of emotionally devastating human drama but one of cultural provocation as well. I just can’t tell you how until more of you have had a chance to see it.

first viewed during the 58th BFI London Film Festival

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Andy davies
Andy davies
Mon, Sep 05, 2016 2:04am

I only wish other reviewers where as careful about the plot as you are. The next review on IMDB gives away the plot in the first line! Not really worth watching it now.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Andy davies
Mon, Sep 05, 2016 12:46pm

That is inexcusable. You should complain to that critic!

But the film is definitely still worth watching.