Now I just want to start off by saying this is going to be a little different from our traditional Off the Shelf write-ups. This movie was suggested to me by our good friend Castor after my write-up of The Messenger. Though before I start the write up, let me just say that this movie is very eye-opening. It’s a true story and has a way of making you feel more deeply about the war and our brave soldiers fighting for the freedoms we very nearly seem to take for granted. While not a single scene of the war is shown, it sufficiently pulled at my heartstrings. I believe it taps an inner compassion that we citizens feel for our armed forces that many of us don’t think we realize. That said I feel the war has been going on far too long and really hope we can being our soldiers home soon. This is for them.
As this is inspired by a true story, I couldn’t help but wonder what liberties were taken (if any) to make the film more appealing. Its not some Hollywood picture, this is a very heartfelt story and really an emotional “road trip” type of film. As I don’t want to get anything wrong, here’s the official synopsis for Taking Chance:
In April, 2004, casualties mount in Iraq. At Quantico, choices focus on increasing troop strength or only replacing casualties. Lt. Col. Mike Strobl crunches numbers. Stung by his superior’s rejection of his recommendation because he lacks recent combat experience, Strobl volunteers for escort duty, accompanying the remains Pfc. Chance Phelps, killed at 19. From Dover to Philadelphia by hearse, from there to Minneapolis and on to Billings by plane, and then by car to Phelps’ Wyoming home – person after person pays respects. Kind words, small gifts, and gratitude are given Strobl to deliver to the family on this soul-searching journey.
The film goes a long way to show the compassion that exists between people whether they know each other or not and that is really heartwarming. An adaptation of recollections on the journey it really makes me want to read the book to find out more of how this assignment affected Strobl.
Kevin Bacon (in one of the rare roles I enjoy him in) portrays a US Marine service office duty and conveys that “I wish I could do more” feeling that I believe is universally felt across this nation. He is in the service and after his tour of duty his job for the country is now an analyst who feels loss for not being able to be in the fight. His role is quiet and he achieves more without overacting and still proves to be quite effective without really doing anything. His subdued gestures are subtle and there’s an almost emotional connection as he delivers his lines (some seem so much weightier than what was just words in the script). Yet while Bacon leads the show, it’s the people who don’t have real (read: speaking) parts that really set the movie apart and tell the story.
The editing was probably the most flattering thing about the movie. The plot was simple but it was altruistic in its nature, the characters met along the way created this tapestry of affected and sympathetic/empathetic Americans but the way it was shot really defined the movie. Taking Chance was filled with little segments that focused on small elements of life and ones we might surely miss if we weren’t looking for them. As this would wrongly be considered a road trip movie this does share the focus on lifestyles that road trip movie contains
Taking Chance lacks very little and although this is a slow film with some repeated visuals and sequences it really hits you inside. It’s with an amazing bit of respect that this film tells the story of PFC Phelps and all the people he touched before and especially after his death. Kevin Bacon in a reserved but still engaging and impacting performance but the real hero of the film (aside from Chance) is the cinematography and the people affected by this unknown solider.
I can’t recall a time when I’ve been so moved by something I know so little about. Further I must say knowing nothing of Chance, and moreover Mike Strobl, going in to this I too feel remorse for Chance and his family and all fallen soldiers actually. A film like this just goes to show that you don’t have to recreate the storming of Normandy Beach to tell the tale of war and loss. You can achieve the same result by showing how the lives are affected by the families at home who aren’t even in the fight.