2nd Chance documents the rise and fall of Richard Davis, the man who invented a bulletproof vest that you could hide under clothing. The vests manufactured by his company, Second Chance, were used by thousands of law enforcement officers and even President George W. Bush. But in the push for ever-lighter body armor, Second Chance started making vests out of Zylon, a material whose properties were found to degrade over time. When reports began to surface about problems with the material, David buried them, resulting in a police officer’s death.
What makes the documentary so interesting is how fascinating a character Davis is. His products saved hundreds of people’s lives, which he proudly catalogs and uses in promotions. He started making cheesy films to reenact some of these “saves,” not bothering to stick strictly to the facts. He may have lied about his origin story too. Oh, and there are at least a few clues pointing to the fact that he may have burned down two of his businesses for the insurance money. He’s a compulsive liar and a narcissist, and the craziest thing is that he fully participated in this documentary which lays bare all his flaws for the world to see.
Writer/director Ramin Bahrani deserves a lot of credit for expertly crafting such a deep character study without being heavy-handed. Much of 2nd Chance is just letting Davis talk and more or less incriminate himself. Of course, we also get interviews with people whose lives were saved by his vests, people who worked for his company, family members, and even ex-wives. Everyone has a slightly different perspective on the man, but it is the people who knew him best that have grown jaded and weary from their interactions with Davis.
“…reports began to surface about problems…David buried them, resulting in a police officer’s death.”
There is something deeply American about starting a business out of nothing, making millions, and rising to the level of knowing the President of the United States. Only to then cover up misdeeds, failings, and start everything all over again. The lack of accountability and introspection is mind-blowing.
After we’ve all been through four long years of a pathological liar and narcissist-in-chief, 2nd Chance feels like a good way to explore what it is about these kinds of people that make them so successful. Why do they rise to the top and lead corporations? Why do we follow them? Why do we excuse their bad behavior and let them lie to us again and again? The film doesn’t answer any of these questions directly or even mention Trump by name. But it certainly gives the viewer a compelling look into a parallel character, and one can’t help but think through these natural comparisons and deeper questions.
Documentaries with amazing central characters don’t come around that often, but when they do, they are a must-see. Take King of Kong, for example. Billy Mitchell was such a self-absorbed jackass that we can’t take our eyes off him. 2nd Chance stands right up there as a complete portrait of someone we are simultaneously repulsed by and drawn to. As such, it is one of the year’s best documentaries.
2nd Chance screened at the 2022 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.