Monday, June 27, 2011
An Ode to the Fallen
This review is a bit of a departure from the usual types of films that I pick. Different in that it has never been in a theater. I watched it the other night on a whim and was captivated from beginning to end. It isn't very long, only 78 minutes and the plot is fairly straightforward. One Marine escorting a fallen soldier to his final resting place. The film is HBO's Taking Chance, directed by Ross Katz.
Kevin Bacon, in a marvelous performance, portrays real life Marine, Lt. Col. Mike Strobl (who penned the script based on his journal entries). He is a man living in conflict with his conscience. Mike has been with the Marine Corps since he was 17 years old and has loved every single minute of it, until the last few months, that is. He has seen the world, been involved in battle and has worked his way to the status of a high ranking officer. Now in his forties, Mike has a family and a desk job in the office staff of the Corps. Every night he searches the list on his computer for names of the deceased over seas. He feels that he should be with his men, in the action. At the same time, he doesn't want to leave his family. Mike is a man being ripped in two directions and both paths are haunting him.
One night, while checking the list, he sees a name from his hometown, Chance Phelps. In the very next scene he asks to be reassigned and be allowed to escort Chance back to his family for the funeral services. His commander allows it but, doesn't understand it, neither does Mike's wife. We get the feeling that she knows it's something he needs to do and she leaves it at that. Mike then sets out on a journey he will never forget.
There are scenes of tremendous power that balance with moments of quiet, inner reflection during the trek across the country. Mike meets several people along the way and they each provide an extra layer to the movie. The first person he meets is the driver who initially picks up the bodies for transport. The two men have a conversation while driving to the airport. This conversation between the two strangers moved me deeply. The script is wonderfully written. A lesser movie would have used a story like this to push an agenda but Taking Chance wisely stays apolitical. This is not a movie about politics or the constant bickering we're forced to endure every day on the news. This film transcends all of the pettiness and focuses on the story.
Throughout Mike's journey we bare witness to the rituals involved in escorting a fallen hero home. I had no idea just what an incredible process it really is. The care and precision taken with every fallen soldier is an exact and painstakingly detailed practice, down to the positioning of the ribbons and shine of the belt buckles. Mike never falters from his duty. At every turn he makes absolutely certain that the dead man is treated with the respect he has earned, even when others don't seem to fully understand his unwavering commitment.
At its core, Taking Chance is a love letter to America and the men and women who live there. We may not always agree with one another and we may not agree on the war but, we all have a deep respect for the sacrifices our soldiers make every day. Scene after scene in this movie is a depiction of the human race at its finest, people putting everything else aside to honor the fallen. Chance's face is never scene in the movie and it doesn't need to be. Chance is more than just one man, he is a representation of all the men and women who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
This movie made me pause and reflect on just how blessed I am to be in America. I was proud to see that even as divided as we have become, there are still times when we can all come together as one. We are still united, however fragile that unity may be.
Friday night I hope you will take the time to watch: