Susanne Bier’s A Second Chance (En Chance Til) begins with police officer Andreas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his partner Simon (Ulrich Thomsen) breaking into the home of a drug-addicted couple, where they find a neglected baby boy covered in his own faeces. Unable to remove the child from his parents’ custody, Andreas returns to his own wife and son of a similar age. At home with Andreas we see the love and comfort his son Alexandre is surrounded with, as opposed to the other child Sofus. After some time, Andreas’ wife Anna (Maria Bonnevie) awakes one night to find that their son has died in his sleep. In denial, she makes Andreas promise not to allow the authorities to take their son away. Andreas then devises a plan to appease Anna by swapping his son for the junkies’ son Sofus, the consequences of which comprise the majority of the plot.
With a running time of 102 minutes, A Second Chance is a concise, well-paced dramatic thriller, which focuses on themes such as family, love, and right and wrong. Although it often feels predictable, the script is far from simplistic; the plot often diverges from expectation, but rarely in such a way as to leave you gobsmacked. What is most shocking is seeing the horrible conditions in which Sofus has been living with his parents.
The majority of the screen time is owned by Coster-Waldau, whose portrayal of Andreas feels genuine and heartfelt. Coster-Waldau does well to show Andreas’ inner struggle with the situation, and the guilt he feels when others around him discover what has happened. What stands out most is how Andreas is convinced he has done the right thing, so much so that he sounds delusional and a little insane.
Despite occupying most of the screen time, the character of Andreas is not the only one of interest. Sofus’ mother Sanne, played by May Andersen, is the most interesting character of them all. On the surface, she appears to be cruel and careless; however, as the plot progresses and more of her character is revealed, you begin to sympathise with her and her situation. She is forced to behave the way she does because of the way her partner treats her. Andersen’s performance is somewhat overshadowed by the other male characters in the film, such as her boyfriend Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). This is mainly due to the small amount of screen time and the more aggressive nature of the male characters which seem to demand more attention.
Tonally A Second Chance alternates between dark and gritty, when Andreas is investigating the drug addicts, and the light and colourful moments of his life with his wife and son. In the former moments, lower lighting is used and the shots are desaturated, to create a grim and dirty atmosphere. The scenes throughout the film are shot skilfully enough for the most part, with the exception of the close-up, more intimate shots, where the shaky handheld aesthetic detracts from the intensity of the scene..
Though the film features a sub-plot about Simon, it suffers from underdevelopment in favour of Andreas’ story; Simon suffers from a drinking problem which he seems to suddenly overcome at the film’s midpoint. The lack of exploration of this arc makes this achievement seem rather insignificant and wasted. The time telling his story could perhaps have been better used elsewhere – for example, to develop the ending of the film.
As an overall viewing experience A Second Chance is a worthwhile movie, which is at times hard-hitting and emotional, with good performances all round. However, there is nothing that could be said to stand out. The technical aspects of this film, such as the script, cinematography and score, all seem to work well enough, but there isn’t much here which screams brilliance – save for the acting performances, which engage the viewer emotionally.
Hamzah M. Hussain