Much has been said about the dark atmosphere in the TV series The Killing, (the original Danish one, not the uneven US remake) and if this murky drama is anything to go by, it seems to be something that Denmark does quite well. Almost as soon as the film starts, director Susanne Bier (winner of the 2011 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for In a Better World but also directed Serena, last year’s long-gestating mess starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper) throws us head first into a world of child neglect, domestic violence, drug abuse and mental illness, and only very rarely are there moments when things lighten up.
Detectives Andreas and Simon (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Ulrich Thomsen, respectively) are called to a domestic disturbance between Tristan (Nikolaj Le Kaas), whom Andreas has encountered before, and his girlfriend Sanne (international model Lykke May Andersen in her film debut). Andreas finds their baby, Sofus, hidden in a cupboard; a discovery made all the more shocking by the fact he has his own baby boy at home.
Somehow, despite being ignored to the point where he is constantly festering in his own urine and faeces, baby Sofus is looked after well enough that he isn’t malnourished, which means that he cannot actually be removed from Tristan and Sanne’s care by social services. But a personal tragedy in Andreas’ own life forces him to take control and do something really, really stupid; an action that will change his life and the lives of those around him irrevocably.
This is a film driven by strong acting, with Coster-Waldau, better known for playing Jamie Lannister in HBO’s smash hit TV series Games Of Thrones, superbly conveying Andreas’ grief, guilt and inner conflict. Andersen and Le Kaas also perform at a very high level, making their scenes of domestic turmoil rather hard to stomach. These are what keep the film grounded through all of the narrative contrivances; you may not be quite convinced by what’s happening, but at least you will believe the performances.
Another issue with A Second Chance is that, as I mentioned previously, it is unremittingly grim from the outset. If the film were more convincing and perhaps more honest, this might not have been such a problem. But the lack of a realistic, believable story amidst screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen’s depressing twists and turns make the viewing experience feel like a bit of a chore at times.
Having said that, Bier’s direction is strong, building tension and evoking a chilly atmosphere very effectively. There are also some interesting moral questions to be asked of the film – such as, are Andreas’ decisions at all justified? – which add another intriguing layer. The solid performances, rich ethical dilemmas and heartfelt love felt by some of the central characters prevent A Second Chance from being entirely unpleasant or unwatchable. But unfortunately, its borderline-ridiculous plot and almost oppressively brooding mood make it hard to recommend.
A Second Chance is now available on DVD in the UK