It all started outside a pizza joint in Detroit during the 1970s. Or at least that’s how Richard Davis, the notorious pioneer in bulletproof vest technology, would have you believe in Ramin Bahrani’s documentary, 2nd Chance. Determined to prevent his pizza shop from being robbed, Davis discreetly hides his weapon underneath pizza boxes and shoots his way out of a sticky situation. Or does he? We never find out for certain, and for much of the film, we’re left questioning his stories, some of which have canyon-sized gaps in details and general plausibility.
Cinematic representations of entrepreneurs, in narrative or documentary form, are rarely flattering. Their relentless obsession and pursuit of the next big thing, with little regard for any potential consequences of their actions, make them an easy target. But Davis’ impetus for crafting improved bulletproof vests is honorable on its face, at the very least. Disturbed by the number of police officers dying in gun fights as a result of subpar protection, he takes it upon himself to craft the ultimate vest. He then tests them on himself. The documentary is filled with footage of Davis shooting himself (and various inanimate objects), and said footage is quite shocking, though the novelty does wear thin.
“…Davis discreetly hides his weapon underneath pizza boxes and shoots his way out of a sticky situation. Or does he?”
Roger Ebert once considered Bahrani to be “the new director of the decade” after the release of his outstanding Chop Shop in 2007. While he has not lived up to such lofty expectations, he’s still a capable filmmaker who has produced some great work, like 99 Homes. But in 2nd Chance, he’s struggling to provide a strong enough reason for us to care. Sure, we come to learn that Davis is a malignant narcissist, and his antics do provide for some entertaining moments. Still, the vast majority of viewers will have met individuals that are just as delusional and wrapped up in themselves. And this does inevitably raise the question of whether crafting an entire feature-length documentary centered around him, regardless of intent, will just serve to further cement his inflated sense of self-worth.
The film is at its strongest when Bahrani focuses on the interpersonal relationships between Richard Davis and his friends and family. It’s hard not to wish that was more of the focus rather than the extended discourse regarding the business of armor technology. The coup de grace is a sequence on a boat involving the subject’s father. It’s an objectively disturbing moment, and in the aftermath, it’s obvious for viewers how Davis came to be the man he was. But again, does another weird man with daddy issues warrant a feature-length documentary?
I’m ultimately a bit torn on 2nd Chance. On the one hand, the footage of Davis shooting an objectively frightening amount of weaponry is hard to shake. But far too often, I was left with the impression that Bahrani had the seed of an idea before he started and never quite found that elusive sense of profundity during the filming. I’m not sure a man continuously shooting himself in the chest quite makes up for it. Davis’ delusions of grandeur are definitely not bulletproof like some of his vests, but that doesn’t necessarily make this an essential watch.