2nd Chance marks Ramin Bahrani’s first feature-length forée into the documentary genre. Although, you may not be able to tell, with its glossy-looking talking heads and largely speculative “fact vs. fiction” storyline. The tale of bulletproof vest inventor Richard Davis is a slippery one, with the telling irony of each of his violent philosophies and hobbies perfectly matched by the heartwarming testimonies of the American countrymen his technology ended up protecting. Bringing new meaning to the term “copoganda,” Davis’ perception of the black and white world of cops and robbers is made all the more repulsive by his own gray morals. The United States is a business, and he’s had no issue running his own successful company just by sucking up to the nation’s most bulletproof institutions.
2nd Chance is a bottle documentary determined to present the collective through the singular. Greed, self-deception, and redemption are the buzzwords characterizing Bahrani’s broader strokes, and although his voiceover commentary may not offer anything that the viewer can’t already deduce from observing these odd, caricature-like individuals living in “redneck nirvana,” (as Davis put so elegantly), in this case, his guiding hand was not something to slap away.
“The family that slays together, stays together,” is the caption for a turn-of-the-century image showing Richard and his son, Matt (who is just as much of an unreliable source as his father, although with eyes that scream regret) holding guns out in Davis’ sizably acred property. Beyond the humor that can be found in the phrase being inscribed on a family photo years before the mainstream introduction of the colloquial usage of the word “slay,” the caption serves as the best example of the kind of rigid familial bonds that keep their business both intimate and afloat. If Richard Davis threatened to kill a 16 year-old-boy on whom he pinned a bullet-gone-awry launched at a Davis-sponsored shooting event, who’s to say that those kinds of threats (empty or not) didn’t exist within the household? Admittedly, that’s a loaded accusation, but with all the “he said, she said” of the friends and family discourse present in the doc, it’s not unconscionable to ponder the reasons for which the interviewees wouldn’t want to be forthright.
Most startling of the Davis allegations is the fact that, for every bulletproof vest a police officer saved, a gun was awarded to the one who went through with executing their perpetrators. For Davis, crime is the thing that needs to be eradicated. The irony of that cannot be understated, but Bahrani’s decision to not dwell on that particular revelation shows a remarkable deal of filmmaker restraint. Plenty of abhorrent details are featured in the doc; more than enough to bury Davis in the pit of public opinion. Yet, he has avoided jail time, and he’s still living in his town – with a new company, yes, after his initial bankruptcy – but he has returned as a major employer. And with jobs at stake, morals (and in this most extreme case, lives) seem to come second.
Bahrani, in his post-film Q&A, alleged that he still likes Davis. He’s a complex man who has made some bad decisions. But sifting through home videos, old records, and interviewing him in his house may be enough to endear one to even the most frustrating of individuals. Although it would have been easy to politicize the film into the matter of the great firearm debate, Bahrani holds strong with his focus on the man with the many legends. His peers can contradict him, but Davis is the subject, and it seems that he knows how interesting he is. His rabble-rousing demeanor and rampant misogyny (it is key that both of his ex-wives were willing to comment on his behavior) are exactly what leftists hope to see in a doc about a man exemplifying the phrase “Blue Lives Matter.” But he has not yet had his final downfall.
Despite proof of many sins, he continues to thrive. That, along with a key interview with one of the police shooting victims 25 years later shown at the end of the film, is what the movie’s all about: second chances. Davis was given too many, and others given too few. The balance of power remains in order.