No Degrees of Separation

taking-chancelSix degrees, two degrees, no degrees. Kevin Bacon walks amongst us. If you live in N.Y.C. you will have seen him here or there. Ditto if you surf your TV for late night moving pictures. He is a chameleon in some ways. Appears in movies, maybe not in the forefront, that have defined Americans and our culture in every decade he has worked, and he has worked plenty, although you'd be hard-pressed to find fans and critics raining the same praise on him as they do his peer Sean Penn. Too bad, because he has maintained a steady and dignified career. From highbrow dramas to comedies, science fiction to horror flicks, and even animation (the voice of Balto). From Animal House in 1978, the original Friday the 13th in 1980, not to mention Diner and Footloose from that same decade, even my son's favorite dark monster comedy Tremors in 1990. And certainly these memorable flicks: JFK, Apollo 13, A Few Good Men, Hollow Man, Stir of Echoes, Mystic River, The Woodsman, Where the Truth Lies, and Ron Howard's very fine Frost/Nixon. He doesn't beg to be noticed. Doesn't fill the gossip pages with high drama or lowbrow antics. He's the consummate pro. And also a damn fine musician. Witness the The Bacon Brothers for proof. A band that he and his brother Michael have been driving for the past 14 years. But I digress....

I want to talk about his latest effort, HBO's Taking Chance. This is a must-see pic, regardless of your feelings about Iraq, our military, or death and glory. It will definitely move you. And Kevin's riveting performance is front and center. The script is based on a journal kept by Marine Lt. Col. Michael Stroble (Bacon), who voluntarily escorted the body of 19-year-old Marine PVT. Chance Phelps' body from Washington to his grave in Dubois, Wyoming. Co-writen/directed/produced by Ross Katz, it is beautifully presented by this first-time filmmaker.

Initially, the Chicago Tribune published Col. Strobl's recollections of his remarkable and redemptive journey: "Chance Phelps was wearing his Saint Christopher medal when he was killed on Good Friday. Eight days later, I handed the medallion to his mother. I didn't know Chance before he died. Today, I miss him."

There are no false notes, syrupy endings, preachy histrionics. In fact, there is very little dialogue. The story is told by the journey that this young fallen soldier's body must take to reach its final resting ground. All of the anonymous faces -- filled with respect and sadness -- that his casket will pass by tell all us all that we need to know. Moreover, Mr. Bacon's steely-eyed and military-rigid manner conveys more emotion than any movie you'll see on TV or the silver screen this winter or spring.

It will make you reexamine your patriotism, your respect for fallen soldiers, your views of death, and most likely your appreciation for life. This movie will leave an indelible mark on your soul.

Check out the HBO website and trailer here for more info. - Dusty Wright

dusty5a

Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs, and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent.

Taking Chance

This true story has moved me like no other movie has in many decades. Freedom does not come cheap it always has a price. Many people do not want to pay that price but someone always does pay for their freedoms.

A Must See For All Americans...

As an american, I was so touched with the way this movie was done. I told everyone I could to watch the movie, they did and agreed. They wept as I did. Good Job...A masterpiece in my view.

Rebuttal

Thanks for your comments.

Bacon's character has issues on many levels and I believe the film does address his questions in a very subtle but knowing manner. I think he comes to realize that every military job, even his seemingly mundane desk job, is interrelated. He is able to gauge that conclusion by the reactions and comments of those around him. Whether or not he's happy with that resolution is not the intention of the director or the script. Moreover, since this is a docudrama there is no major character arc with a huge satisfying finale. This is not that type of Hollywood movie. It leaves some of his issues unresolved, as is the case with real life.

I absolutely think we need to see how much respect and care goes into handling our fallen soldiers. It was certainly eye-opening for me. As someone who had family members in the military -- my father and my grandfather, who survived -- I had no idea about the care and attention paid for the fallen.

Yes, the price of war is high. And this movie doesn't position itself on the politics of war, but rather on the care of its dead. (Perhaps we should care for our wounded with the same respect and honor.)

As far as recommending it to the families of the fallen...I would venture to say that those who wish to watch will watch. And those who are still grieving may chose not to. That is entirely up to the viewer.

The issues

The movie is good but more of documentary of processing the bodies and honoring the fallen at ever step. From the long flight home, xray bodies for unexploded ordinates, cleaning the dirt from finger nails, and transportation on civilian airlines, the story of Col. Michael Stroble, played by Bacon, own struggles is really just window dressing that falls short of adding anything compelling to the story. It didn't really matter that the Col is struggling with his own career decisions. Bacon portrayal of the a Col. taking a body back to family is an award winning performance, but the story lack impact for me. A man of few word in this film, he evokes many unanswered questions at to what really is effecting him. Is is War? Is it death? Is it his own career choices? I didn't really care what he was going through at all. I felt for the family Chance Philips.

The fact that this film comes out at time that the Pentagon lifts the ban on allowing the media to film returning caskets is probably just good luck for HBO or a calculated programming move. The rule now allows the press to record returning caskets as long as the families approve. With different families involved, this is probably the right decision. Although, the three previous Presidents did not allow it.

The question is does this film cross the line even further. Do we as a society really need to know all the details as to what happens to the fallen. I've had family members die in my life time. I had no interest in going behind the scenes to see how the bodies are prepared before a viewing. I suspect that no one really wants this. It's a bit creepy.

Men are sent of to war with lots of hugs and kisses and many come back in body bags. This is the price of war. Some probably believe that show caskets coming off the C130 is the way to prevents more wars.

I would not recommend this film to family members who've recently lost someone in the war. It's way too much information. Even though there are touching moments of how we honor the fallen, there are too many scenes that should not be viewed by grieving families.

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