Sundance 2022: Ramin Bahrani's Incredibly Good '2nd Chance' Doc
by Alex Billington
February 4, 2022
Who would've thought that a documentary about some bozo that invented a new bulletproof vest would be this fascinating and this unsettling?! But that's exactly why I had to watch this film and find out what it's all about and holy sh*t, it's totally nuts! This guy is nuts! But that is the story, that's the entire point of making this film. Another tale of the "American Dream" gone wrong. Iranian-American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani (making his first doc after many features including Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, At Any Price, 99 Homes, The White Tiger) has cooked up his version "Tiger King" with this documentary called 2nd Chance, which just premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The engrossing documentary tells the story of Richard Davis, a doofus from Michigan that somehow invented some lightweight bulletproof vests as part of a police fanboy fantasy. The way it plays out from there is totally crazy, and it gets even crazier as the story goes on.
Much like Netflix's uber-popular "Tiger King" series, 2nd Chance features so many wild & crazy stories from so many different people it's hard to really figure out what's fact or what's fiction. Everyone's speaking like they're telling the truth, but you never know. Especially with the main character - Richard Davis. He was a bankrupt pizzeria owner who, after a maybe-it-happened, maybe-it-didn't robbery attempt in Detroit in the late 1960s, decided to create some bulletproof vests body armor out of fabric. To prove that his creation would work, he shot himself. Over the course of his career, he shot himself almost 200 times. He was that confident in his products and, remarkably, he never ended up seriously harming himself. So it worked! But that's not the end of his "success" story, it's only the beginning… This is one of the most stomach churning documentaries I've ever seen. I was so sick learning about this man and everything else he got involved in.
2nd Chance is not only about how rotten and evil the "American Dream" can be, it is about how violence is inextricably a part of American culture. I can't believe how good this film is, the interviews Ramin Bahrani gets, good lord!! It paints such a clear picture of a man who made an entire life / career around killing and macho gun culture. Bahrani's exceptionally wise narrative digs even deeper examining the legacy of America itself: obsession with violence and dominance and how it all intertwines. And how this story of this one man represents the despicable, violent side of America that is protected by impunity. Not only did he get away with some terrible things, he glorified murder. One of his marketing campaigns for his vests involved giving bonuses to cops who survived a shooting and killed the suspect that shot at them. If they didn't kill them, well, no bonus. If that makes you feel nauseous, that's exactly it. And that's not even scratching the surface.
I am in awe of the things that he got these people to say on camera. Bahrani is an experienced social realist filmmaker who has often spent time meeting with and interviewing real people before making his films. He's already skilled at making conversation, and has an innate ability to get incredible interviews. Which results in a more enriching, eye-opening documentary – because his interviewees reveal themselves, their honesty comes out; though in the case of Richard, you can see his mind spinning to try to cover up the truth. And he uses this footage so carefully to build this bigger narrative that boils below the surface of this film about how there is a side of America that loves killing. Its been lingering ever since WWII and has been handed down generation after generation. And this film talks about exactly that, and much more, including about how the "American Dream" really means that success comes at the cost of others' suffering and harm. It always has.
I will admit that it's not exactly the most joyful or entertaining film to watch, because half of the time you'll be grumbling about how fucked up this guy is. And how he was able to get away so much collateral damage, all the while nurturing a culture of violence, making money off of death, for years & years. Bahrani is smart enough to make a fascinating film offering alternate perspectives from others involved, too. He interviews a few people who have come to realize it was a mistake to work with Richard years ago. And they've also come to acknowledge his culture of violence as something especially dangerous. I don't care how much money he made, or that these bulletproof vests did save lives, that's not the point. Ultimately, it's a reminder there are people who will happily make a profit on death and violence. They do not care about your life, they only care about power & money. We need to stop thinking of them as "success stories" – they don't deserve that glory.