Susanne Bier has most recently directed the highly acclaimed BBC miniseries, The Night Manager, but in 2014’s A Second Chance, Bier reunites with her longtime collaborator, Anders Thomas Jensen, to bring us another gripping tale examining tragedy and grief. The two are perhaps most well-known for their 2010 Academy-Award winning feature, In a Better World, and this film delivers in every way much like its predecessor. The film stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Andreas, a police detective who loses his seven-week old baby in what appears to be sudden infant death syndrome and switches the baby with a known junkie’s baby in an attempt to stop his wife (Maria Bonnevie) from killing herself. Her mental illness proves to be too much and she still ends up taking her life and the film looks into how Andreas deals with the aftermath.
The story is anchored by a phenomenal performance by Coster-Waldau in a character very similar to his Game of Thrones counterpart (the things he does for love), and I’m surprised he wasn’t nominated for even one award for his work here. The supporting cast delivers knockout performances as well but it’s Coster-Waldau that shines brightest. Andreas does something so unthinkable yet almost justified because he loves his wife and we can’t help but still feel he’s honourable in his actions as the film explores the blurred ethical line of right and wrong. After just watching the painstaking agony of him discover his dead baby, I found it almost unfathomable that he would actually swap him but Bonnevie’s powerful performance as his tortured wife really leaves him no choice. I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention May Anderson’s compelling performance as Sanne, the girlfriend of the ex con and junkie, and mother of the baby that is switched. This was Anderson’s first acting role and a truly unforgettable debut.
This is Bier at her finest with sweeping landscape shots intertwined with close-ups of the actors’ eyes and hands. She not only lingers on the raw emotion of Andreas but also focuses many times on the baby’s innocent face and alternates between a well-balanced palette of cold and warm tones. As gut wrenching as many of the scenes were (especially both couples’ revelation of their dead babies and their struggle to cope with it), nothing ever felt forced or indulgent and Bier is a master at capturing such natural, subtle performances from her cast. Because this movie is so well directed and acted, I found myself watching it a second time with no sound just to understand and appreciate its every detail.
Good movies not only entertain but also make us think and Anders Thomas Jensen has crafted a masterful script that takes us on one hell of an emotional roller coaster journey. He’s managed to weave a riveting tale encompassing family, love, parenthood, sacrifice, loss, power, corruption, morality, and so much more. It’s been several days since my initial viewing and I still find myself thinking about the film and the ethical dilemmas posed by it before I fall asleep. You could say this drama-thriller is absolutely haunting—hauntingly good and not to be missed.