Friday, January 30, 2009

Taking Chance

2009 Sundance Film Festival ★ ★ ★ ★

Immediately after watching Taking Chance I was struck by a singular thought: I do not recall having ever seen a movie with a simpler plot, other than a few experimental or distinctly non-commercial efforts. The story line consists almost entirely of a United States Marine Corps officer, played by Kevin Bacon, escorting the body of a Marine soldier, Chance Phelps, who was killed in action in Iraq. Their journey takes them from the military mortuary in Delaware to his home in Montana, with little more than obligation to duty and simple encounters along the way.

Impressively, director Ross Katz keeps the emotional tone of the film within a narrow range. He shows remarkable discipline in avoiding any deviations of comic relief, flashback action sequences, romance, etc. that might break up the emotional crescendo that slowly builds.

It’s an extraordinary film that has a powerful effect on viewers. Regardless of your political stance on the war, or even the military, it is impossible not to be moved by way the Marines as well as civil Americans honor those that have sacrificed their lives for their country. If you don’t have a military background, it will likely change the way you view ceremony and tradition.

Based on the actual experiences of co-writer Lt. Colonel Michael Strobl, and enlisting the support of expert advisors as well as the cooperation of the military, the careful depictions rings true to life. In fact, much of the beauty of the film is in the detail, the little things that are meticulously and reverently cared for out of respect for the fallen soldier. There is beauty in the tireless repetition of salutes that follow Corporal Chance all the way to his burial. It suggests an unwavering discipline that will forever honor the sacrifice, even as the world moves on.

Some critics might dismiss Taking Chance as a one-dimensional film, but that would be missing the point. The unwavering focus is instead a powerful symbol of the USMC motto: Semper Fidelis—always faithful.

Notes from Sundance
Katz said he wanted to make an apolitical film, although he left little room for debate about where he stands on the war in Iraq. In fact, he said that if someone told him three years ago he would make a movie about the Marines he would have called them crazy. He’d never been in the military and never known anyone that was. However, it was clear that the experience of making the movie affected him, not necessarily politically, but by appreciating the respect, reverence and devotion that honor the sacrifices of these young men.

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