Never an easy watch, A Second Chance is a heart-breaking Scandinavian drama that offers up an almost impossible choice to it’s lead character, and by extension asks us what we would do in his place.
Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays determined cop, Andreas, who seemingly has it all. A beautiful wife, a new baby and the chance to help others at his job. This extends to covering for his alcoholic partner Simon (Ulrich Thomsen), whose life is falling apart. On a routine bust, they encounter two junkies who have a baby of their own, and are clearly unable to look after the child properly. Andreas is incensed, and becomes obsessed with the idea of safe-guarding the child, but this leaves him blind-sided by the horrors that are about to unfold at home.
Andreas’ wife Anna (Maria Bonnevie) wakes up to find their child dead. Unable to cope she threatens to kill herself and in desperation Andreas hatches a frantic plan. He sedates his unstable wife, takes the body of his baby to where the two junkies live and executes a swap. When Anna wakes up, still in shock, she convinces herself her child is safe and well and the police arrest the drug addicts for the death of their child. Things take an even more harrowing turn for Andreas when Anna’s sanity continues to spiral and a post-mortem reveals that his own baby died by deliberate suffocation.
Just writing the recap fills us with the dread I experienced when I watched the film many months ago. The layering on of misery upon misery is, at times, unbearable. Thankfully, director Susanne Bier is experienced enough to avoid any hint of the morbid as she keeps the film ticking along at pace that suits the material perfectly. Our sympathies swing from one character to the next, but we never forget the hardships that any of them are experiencing.
Bier has chosen a series of interesting projects over the years. Her American films may not be as smart as her native ones, last year’s spectacular flop Serena – which starred Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence – will attest to that, but she still manages to bounce back with something universally liked.
A Second Chance is gruelling to watch, and you rarely get to see a man go through the wringer as poor Andreas does. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is superb, convincing you of the agony the character is going through and somehow engaging you in the spectacularly misjudged choices he is making. His own descent into hell is bereft of sentimentality, instead it is constantly counter-balanced by the human emotions of those around him.
This is ultimately filmmaking of the highest order. A story so emotionally-charged that you may take several days to fully recover from it and even then it is likely to revisit you at random moments.