Saturday, July 11, 2009

on the emotionally powerful taking chance

Two key quotes in a February interview with L.A. Weekly's Scott Foundas from the filmmakers behind Taking Chance:

From Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl, whose memoir inspired the film:
“To me, this is not a movie about Iraq,” Strobl says, “this is a movie about America.”
From director Ross Katz, who wrote the screenplay with Strobl:
“I remember one particular night after reading [Strobl's memoir],” Katz says, “I turned on CNN and yet another roadside bomb had ripped through yet another Baghdad market, and I sat there and I didn’t feel anything. I was extremely angry with myself, because I thought, intellectually I know how tragic this is, but I don’t feel anything, because for years I have been seeing this 24-hour news/cyber/cell-phone footage. I walked out on the street and life was just normal. I thought, there’s a parent who just got a knock on the door, and why does everything look the same? It just didn’t add up to me, and so that was kind of my leaping-off point.”
Taking Chance, which premiered at Sundance before airing on HBO in February, tells the true story of Strobl's journey in 2004 to escort the body of Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, who was killed while stationed in Iraq, to his family.

The film spends most of its short running time revealing the detail-by-detail process that goes in to preparing a dead soldier's body, and the story's emotional restraint (highlighted by a terrifically understated performance from Kevin Bacon) makes the journey both illuminating and almost unbearably poignant.

No speeches, no showy passages, no grand summations -- Taking Chance may be a little too small-screen in its execution, but its formal modesty belies the deep veins of emotion that are pulsing underneath. As Strobl correctly states, this isn't about Iraq -- it's about America and, perhaps more specifically, how difficult a time we have grappling with death. Plus, the movie's clear-eyed respect for the country's military communities -- the small towns where service is passed down from generation to generation and is as ingrained into the fabric of society as the Friday night football game and the senior prom -- is a thing of beauty. All the movie asks is that you feel, and by resisting the story's inherently manipulative elements, Taking Chance accomplishes its mission. It's not an "Iraq War movie," but that's part of the reason it's so terrific.