Read a synopsis of A Second Chance and you might go in expecting an especially spicy episode of SVU. The story’s packed with crime, parental neglect and a particularly potent package of twists. But what prevents this from being a feature-length Danish Law & Order episode are the steady hands of director Suzanne Bier.
Perhaps ‘steady’ is the wrong word. A Second Chance is defined throughout by its agitated editing style. The frantic pacing lends the film an almost psychopathic tenor; it’s as though the picture is filmed through a haze of panic sweat.
And it works! The anxious approach at once accentuating the screenplay’s moral complexities even as it exaggerates its inherent absurdities. I’m not familiar with the Dogme ’95 films with which Bier cut her teeth, but I was reminded of that movement’s incipient document, The Celebration.
Bier’s off-kilter energy is largely matched by the cast, who dial up their intensity accordingly. Nikolaj Lie Kaas, playing a recently-released crim, delivers each scene in the throes of apoplexy while Maria Bonnevie dives head-first into a vacant chasm of loss. The only disappointment is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, whose underplayed performance strives for subtlety but merely chafes against the film’s feverish restlessness.