Nikolaj Coster-Waldau gives a career-defining-so-far performance in Susanne Bier’s latest, En chance til (A Second Chance). A fair few shades darker than her critical darling Love Is All You Need, and more enthralling than the moribund Serena, Bier skirts with some seriously taboo subjects here; including child neglect, sudden infant death syndrome, and postpartum depression.
What’s revealed with this film is the taboo that stems from a subject being horrible to imagine, let alone see depicted on film. The most important aspect of cinema is surely the ability it has to instantly transplant the viewer into the world and situation of any of the characters they see on screen; it is human nature to wonder what you yourself would do in any given situation that you see others mishandling, or handling where you would not.
Here we have Andreas, newly-minted father with a loving wife and a rising star in his police department. A confluence of events leads first to him attending a domestic disturbance where he finds junkies Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Sanne (Lykke May Andersen) bickering; with prior knowledge of Tristan’s behaviour and past crimes, Andreas roots around his flat without a warrant.
Instead of finding drugs like he presumes, he finds Tristan and Sanne’s baby, shut away in a cupboard and covered in its own faeces, starving from neglect. Eager to remove the baby from the couple’s care, but prevented from doing so by an inept social system, Andreas is forced to return home to his wife Anne (a well-balanced performance by Maria Bonnevie) and newborn baby Alexander.
As the film progresses, and Andreas and his partner Simon (Ulrich Thomsen) try and fail to remove Tristan and Sanne’s baby from its abusive home, things take a dark turn at home for Andreas when one night he is woken by the screams of his wife, and the sudden death of his own infant. Finding himself in a horrible situation, with his wife screaming at him that she’ll kill herself if Alexander doesn’t wake up, Andreas finds himself making a decision that will affect the lives of everyone around him.
To tell you more about this story would be a discredit to its twists and turns; A Second Chance’s affecting moral decisions and dilemmas have the power to contort your face into a savage cringe with the two-hander of ‘what is that character doing’ and ‘what would I be doing in that situation’ when each startling plot development crops up.
The film’s power is its extremes; this is literally life and death, given so much more weight because it revolves around the lives and deaths of infants. There is nothing more primal to us than the propagation of our species, our biological imperative to give birth to and raise our young; the failure of any one of us to do the job we were literally born to do cuts deeper than bone and the fear of that failure runs deep within our blood. Susanne Bier is here to bring that fear bubbling to the surface; it will be hard to confront, but that is exactly part of the reason why it must be confronted.
The cast assembled here are all top notch, as they have to be; if any performance were to falter it would impact the intense subject matter and make the film not worth doing at all. Luckily, everyone pulls their weight and the film does not suffer for it. Newcomer to the acting world, Danish model Lykke May Andersen, plays her part as wronged, abused Sanne expertly, and carries herself like she’s been acting all her life – it’s a mesmerising performance even in a film full of them.
A Second Chance is a film that must be watched for its subject matter, for its direction and its performances. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau should be taking on these meatier roles with abandon from now on, as he does spectacularly well the closer to raw emotion he gets (also see: his bath house scene from the third season of Game of Thrones).
Review by Dan Woburn
[SRA value=”4″ type=”YN”]