Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | November 29th, 2022
2nd Chance (Ramin Bahrani, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.
America’s obsession with guns is nothing new, dating back to our frontier past and a Bill of Rights Amendment of wildly diverging interpretations. While there are weapons galore out there in the world, however, it is understandable that some folks—in particular, law-enforcement officers—might long for extra protection against the bullets emanating from gun barrels. Enter one Richard Davis, founder of Second Chance Body Armor in 1970. He’s the subject of the first feature documentary from longtime fiction director Ramin Bahrani (The White Tiger). Mixing hard facts, surprising humor, pure absurdity, and deeply poignant moments, Bahrani takes us on a journey into the financial ups and downs, emotional highs and lows, and often twisted mentality and ethics of Davis and his merchandise.
There is plenty of archival material on display, since it turns out that Davis is something of a filmmaker, too, in the habit of using self-produced movies as marketing tools since the early days of his business. He’s also very much still alive, so we are able to extensively hear from him in both the present and past, in both of which timelines he is a big fan of shooting himself in the chest while wearing one of his signature products. Fun stuff. Also among the interviewees are his two ex-wives and son (from marriage #1), along with one Aaron Westrick, a former policeman who, for a long time, was a Second Chance employee. He joined the company after his own life was saved thanks to one of its vests. Eventually, he and Davis would have a falling out.
That disagreement was fueled by Davis’ turn to shady business practices after years of unquestionable excellence in the field. A pioneer in the use of Kevlar, Davis was always worried about the competition, and in the 1980s seized upon a newly invented material, Zylon, which was stronger and lighter than Kevlar. Unfortunately, it also degraded much more quickly, leading to vests that would fail at much higher rates than the old ones. We follow the debacle of that venture, including visiting the family of police officer Tony Zeppetella, killed when his Second Chance vest failed to stop a bullet (Davis disputes this verdict). This leads Bahrani, and the viewer, to question many of Davis’ self-aggrandizing proclamations.
Divided into 6 chapters plus an epilogue, 2nd Chance features one section labeled “Print the Legend,” in which Bahrani examines the origin story of Davis’ early business ventures. What may or may not be true remains murky, but one thing is sure: if you control the past, it’s easy to manipulate the present and, possibly, the future. In contrast to Davis is Westrick, who rejects the mercenary and bloodthirsty tendencies of his former boss to embrace a humanistic approach to life and redemption. In a moving sequence at the end, he embraces Clifford Washington, the man who shot him years ago (and has since rebuilt his life after a stint in prison). It’s a lovely conclusion to a fascinating saga that is as entertaining as it is frequently disturbing.