Movie review

Sundance 2022: 2nd Chance | Festivals & Awards

As it tells an incredibly bizarre but always affecting story, “2nd Chance” reckons with what would compel a man to do such a thing. For one, it was because he was a showy American businessman—Richard figured that to prove his product worked, he’d put his life on the line every time and film it. But in a larger sense, it’s about the gun—to defeat one of the most destructive inventions in the history of the world, and for Richard to get his own share of its mythological power. Richard’s Michigan-based company, Second Chance, helped him become incredibly wealthy while saving police lives, and it gave him a great deal of attention as it comforted his hubris. Shooting himself made him powerful. But as his fantastical sense of authority started to deteriorate, it nearly destroyed everything that was real around him.   

The truth within “2nd Chance” is much stranger than fiction, and it is exhilarating to see such a sensitive filmmaker handle this treasure trove of footage. Among the many strange elements are the films that Richard made to promote his product, revelations of his fantasies, and his galactic distance from the experience of real violence. In this footage, cops reenact the stories of how they were “saved” by a Second Chance bulletproof vest, with dramatic liberties taken openly (as with a script about murderous hippies who hunt cops). The movies are kooky, grotesque, and all-American, just like the mastermind behind them, and they are unrelenting in how they champion gun-toting, desperately macho nonsense, like Buffalo Bill helping create the lie of the cowboy in the late 1800s. 

There are so many incredibly entertaining pieces to Richard’s saga, allocated into potent chapters, and Bahrani is in masterful control of their larger meaning. His eye is always on the most influential relationships, like the connection that Richard had with his WWII veteran father, drawing a tender direct line between the father’s trauma and the son’s need to be a god of war. Later there are conspiracies and cover-ups at Second Chance, which endanger the lives of many, but also threatens the deep allegiance he has from a friend and business associate named Aaron, who was once a police officer saved by Richard’s vests. Throughout, the documentary honors what is absurd in this epic real-life drama about a narcissist entertainer who loves to blow shit up in one way or another, and what is tragic. There are no easy targets here. 

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