Political Content in last year’s pro-troops dvd Taking Chance
TAKING CHANCE [broadcast on HBO]
summary from amazon.com:
Based on the true experiences of Lt. Colonel Michael Strobl, who wrote eloquently of them in a widely circulated 2004 article, Taking Chance is a profoundly emotional look at the military rituals taken to honor its war dead, as represented by a fallen Marine killed in Iraq, Lance Corporal Chance Phelps. Working as a strategic analyst at Marine Corps Base Quantico in VA, Lt. Col. Strobl (Kevin Bacon) learns that Phelps had once lived in his hometown, and volunteers to escort the body to its final resting place in Wyoming. As Strobl journeys across America, he discovers the great diligence and dignity in how the military, and all those involved with preparing and transporting the body, handle their duties. Equally important, he encounters hundreds of people affected by Chances death, a vast majority of whom never knew him. This collective grieving eventually causes Lt. Col. Strobl, a veteran of Desert Storm now assigned to office duty, to probe his own guilt about not re-deploying to Iraq for the current conflict. Arriving in Wyoming, Lt. Col. Strobl completes his catharsis when he encounters Chances gracious family and friends, and discovers an extraordinary outpouring of community support.
“The film is based on the journal kept by Marine Lt. Col. Michael Strobl as he escorted the body body of a Marine who had been killed in Iraq. The Chicago Tribune published Col. Strobl’s recollections of the journey on its one-year anniversary in “Taking Chance.”
read the printed recollection here
starring: Kevin Bacon, Enver Gjokaj, Gordon Clapp, Tom Wopat, Paige Turco, Danny Hoch
J.R. Head at Big Hollywood
Dorothy Rabinowitz at the Wall Street Journal
David C. Stolinsky, MD
Just A Grunt at JammieWearingFool’s blog
movieguide.org Christian reviews
some awards that Taking Chance and Kevin Bacon were nominated for and/or won…
including: Golden Globes, Emmys, Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild
special dvd features:
Bearing Witness: A featurette that includes interviews with Chance Phelps’ friends and family as well as a section on the real Lt. Col. Michael Strobl
The Real Chance Phelps: Interviews, home movies, and personal photos help to paint a more vivid picture of this hero
From Script to Screen: A featurette on how Taking Chance was made, from concept through production
Deleted Scene: I’ll Watch Over Him
the only thing in the movie that could be called anti-Iraq war was the following bit of dialogue:
i gotta be honest… no offense, but… i don’t really get what we’re doing over there
some other bits of dialogue:
dialogue between airline employee and LtCol Mike Strobl:
all metal out of your pockets… sir, your bag needs to go through…
uh, yeah, you can wand this bag but it can’t go through the x-ray machine
please don’t tell me how to do my job
the bag can’t go through
well, it’s your call… it’s gonna take you longer… sir, i need you to remove your jacket and place it in the bin…
i can’t remove the jacket… you can hand-check me… is there a supervisor around?
not right here… just please remove your jacket… it needs to go through the machine…
I will not remove this jacket and denigrate this uniform.
you have a lot of metal on your jacket… it needs to go through the machine…
take me to a private room and wand me there…
Bush: U.S. must not waver
Ashcroft says Clinton’s rules ‘handcuffed’ anti-terrorism
from the Memorial service announcement:
In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations to the Chance R. Phelps Memorial Fund to raise money to send flak vests to our troops in Iraq
dialogue between LtCol Mike Strobl and Charlie Fitts:
I should have been over there, Charlie
it wasn’t your time, Col.
it was exactly my time… i knew the clock was ticking… i knew my time was coming up… but i just… kept ignoring it, y’know? except in the middle of the night… i’d check those casualty lists… just praying that i wouldn’t recognize any of the names… i don’t know, y’know… i just, umm… just got used to seeing my wife and kids every day… so i put in a request for another office tour… and it was granted…
well… they must have needed you here…
no… my friends went… guys i was in Desert Storm with went… i stayed home… i was trained to fight… if i’m not over there, what am i? those guys… guys like Chance… They’re Marines.
and you think you’re not? wanna be with your family every night? you think you have to justify that? you better stop right there sir… You brought Chance home. You’re his witness now. Without a witness, they’d just disappear.
LtCol Mike Strobl to the family of Lance Corporal Chance Phelps:
I want you to know, you do not mourn alone today… all across America… from Virginia, to Delaware, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming… people are thinking of you… and praying for you… you should know that… Chance has touched many people… there’s one more thing that I’d like you to have… a flight attendant in Philadelphia handed this to me and… it seemed like it was very special to her… i was going to keep it as a reminder of the trip… and then i realized that she wasn’t giving it to me… She was giving it to you.
from a user review at imdb.com:
I saw this movie at a Sundance in the Schools presentation in Ogden,UT. To give you an idea of the power of this film, 600 + high school students were totally silent during this film and erupted in applause at the end. A vivid demonstration of the impact of this tribute to the sacrifice of a 19 years old Marine PFC killed in Iraq. A true story the based on Chance Phelps who was only 1 – 1/2 years out of high school himself. The director, cinematographer, and producer were there to field questions from the students. In response to a question the Director Katz stated he tried to keep this effort apolitical as a tribute to all who have been killed in Iraq and to focus on the respect and dignity afforded the KIA soldiers on their journey home. This is one of the better movies I’ve seen dealing with the emotional toll of wars on the families and comrades left behind.
Taking Chance is a very simple film about Lt. Col. Michael Strobl (Kevin Bacon) who is escorting the body of a fallen PFC named Chance Phelps to his family. In under ninety minutes, the film bears witness to the respectful procedures that the USMC follows in such situations and to the reactions of ordinary Americans who Strobl meets on this particular journey. He doesn’t know the Private, and we learn only a few details about Strobl himself, but I found the film to be one of the most moving experiences I’ve had in a theater, almost indescribably so. Bacon’s solidity and restraint bind the minimal plot together, as do the tasteful decisions made by filmmaker Ross Katz, a producer-turned-director (he produced Lost in Translation and In the Bedroom) who tells the story with remarkable efficiency, never lingering past a scene’s essential moment, never overplaying the emotion. It’s the best feature film about America’s involvement in Iraq that I’ve seen. I’m not a military guy, and I’ve never had much interest in the Marines, but after the screening I needed some time to walk around.
This is where the film succeeds. It is all about respect…wether it be the slow motion salutes every time the body is moved onto an airplane or the random citizens stopping and taking their hats off in respect for the soldier it is a very moving movie.
It’s all very informative – we learn how a fallen soldier’s belongings are cared for, and how the body of a Marine is properly uniformed, even for a closed casket, and how the custom is for the escort to salute the casket every time it is moved from one mode of transportation to another, all working to ensure that what is essentially a parcel getting shipped cross country is not treated as mere luggage – and on that level alone, “Taking Chance” has great value. The precision of the Marines is carried over after death; this devoted sense of honor and respect is, simply put, as admirable as it is fascinating, and families of those killed in action can take some comfort in what they see here./But if all the filmmakers wanted to do was to tell us how military remains are transported, a documentary would do just fine. In this film, with all its dramatic weight, these rituals are presented as a form of grieving. In one scene, Mike declines to stay at a hotel so he can watch over the coffin at the airport; later, he arrives at the funeral early in the morning, as if, again, to be Chance’s guardian. Though voice-over, Mike tells us how he felt that as long as the two kept moving, as long as they had a mission, a destination, Chance had a sense of still being alive. Only the cemetery could grant Phelps’ remains a finality, and only there does Mike walk away from his charge./(The film goes so far as to hide Mike’s own opinions from us. We know he is a devoted Marine, but how does he vote? We catch him spying a glimpse at Bush and Rumsfeld in the headlines but are left to translate his stare. Is he frustrated by the protests? Angry at how the civilian leadership in the Pentagon is handling things? We’ll never know – nor should we. It’s far more interesting to study his feelings of duty and ineffectiveness. When Mike discovers that Chance’s parents are starting a fund to send gear to the troops, he flinches; allocating such gear is his job back home, and when we first meet him, he’s recommending the bare minimum, a decision he now perhaps regrets, standing there in Wyoming, preparing for the funeral of a Marine he couldn’t save. There’s more in this single reaction shot than there would be in any monologue about Mike being pro-Bush or anti-war.)
It’s a long trip. Everywhere along the way, he encounters Americans of every age, class and occupation who are transfixed once they understand they are in the presence of a military escort officer taking a serviceman home. That presence is enough. They don’t need the sight of the flag-draped casket. All that they feel they show this uniformed officer, the stand-in for their dead fellow American, for his family, for the funeral service they can’t get to — and the recipient of their grief and regard.
He receives a seat upgrade to first class, bestowed by an airline ticket agent — she doesn’t have to explain why — and a small silver crucifix somebody else hands him. He’s the object of countless searching looks from travelers who do catch sight of the flag-covered coffin, at some transfer point, as the colonel salutes. They want to know what to do, the looks say. The cargo handlers know — they have seen these caskets and escorts before — and they do it. Throughout these scenes, tremendous in their affect, stands the colonel, registering these responses in silence — and, as Mr. Bacon so successfully makes us feel, in the depths of his soul.
For two and a half minutes near the end of “Taking Chance,” the new HBO movie about the body of a young Marine returned home for burial, there is no sound except for the salute of the riflemen and the Wyoming wind battering the flags that stand at half mast as the shattered remains of PFC Chance Phelps are placed at rest. The silence amounts to perhaps the most eloquent statement Hollywood has yet made about the Iraq War./Its main competition is an earlier scene in the same movie. Driving along a country road behind an SUV carrying the casket, Lt. Col. Michael Strobl finds other motorists forming an impromptu funeral cortege out of respect for the departed./”Taking Chance,” which is the only Iraq movie to show the troops in a wholly positive way, is also the only one people are watching.
This is a great film, and not what I expected it to be. I had anticipated a character study of Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, the taciturn man played in a reserved but deeply expressed performance by Kevin Bacon. To some degree it is about him — his journey, why he undertakes it, how it moves him. In the same way, it is also about the fallen marine he escorts, Chance Phelps, who we learn more about the closer we get to his final resting place. But the main character of the film is the death rite itself.
It is a segment of the war experience that is seldom shown and is depicted with great insight by the autobiographical script by Strobl and the direction of Ross Katz (who also co-wrote the screenplay). We too are made Phelps’s escorts, from the processing of his remains and personal effects to his lowering into the ground at the site of his grave. Katz shows us what great care is taken with his body and possessions, shown in tender closeups. He observes military rituals — the careful folding of flags, the loading onto and off of planes — in shots composed with visual symmetry that conveys order and a reverence for the dead. We are shown the subtle and often wordless reactions of civilians whom Strobl encounters along the way; they are demonstrative in their gestures of condolence, or exhibit the uneasy solemnity of wanting to pay respects in some way but not sure what to say or how to say it. There are beautiful scenes in airports that are shot simply but have undercurrents that run deep.
At times, Katz speaks volumes without needing a word of dialogue. Perhaps the film’s most affecting sequence shows Strobl driving behind the hearse carrying Phelps to the funeral home. They drive slowly, and other cars are shown passing on their left. But then the scene cuts to a wide shot of the road and shows that the two-car procession has grown into a multi-car caravan. It is a spontaneous act of shared grief, of communal mourning — a nation of the bereaved on a lonely desert road to carry a soldier home.
lastly, here are a few excerpts from leftist reviews:
Ross Katz’s Taking Chance, a somber, well-made drama about youth, grief and terrible finality, is an infuriating film because it’s also, for me, a sneaky Iraq War sell-job in sheep’s clothing./But the movie does something else. It sells the honor and glory of combat death in a ‘sensitive’ way that is not only cloying but borders on the hucksterish. Which I feel is a kind of obscenity./”One result of this sell job is that it lends an aura of dignity and nobility to a conflict that was launched upon lies and neocon arrogance and idiocy, and that war simply doesn’t deserve the respectful salute that Taking Chance obliquely extends./”I’m not objecting to this film offering a modest and moving tribute to our fallen dead. I was in fact moved by this. But Katz knows full well that Bush, Cheney, Rummy and Wolfowitz will cream in their pants when they see this thing. Is he proud of this? Because I think Taking Chance is catering, in a roundabout way, to not just the red-state sentiments that have prolonged the Iraq War (and which certainly prolonged the Vietnam War) but the kneejerk neocon thinking that has also kept us in that terrible situation./”The fundamental objection I have to Katz and the film is the underlying spin behind the general honoring of brave young men suffering ghastly death and mutilation under the wind-whipped stars and stripes.
Included with the DVD is a half-hour supplement titled “Bearing Witness,” which examines how the story and film came to be, featuring interviews with Phelps’s family and friends, in addition to the real Lt. Col. Strobl. More sensitive viewers may find this challenging to get through, while the discerning audience will note its hagiographic nature.
Strobl is soberly reminded of his own role in the Phelps’s family grief when he is told that Chance would have been honored that such senior officer escorted him home. Way out of Washington D.C. such gestures still have meaning. There are many small towns in the US where people are proud of those who joined, and honor all who served in wars. They call themselves patriots.
Among unsurpassed beauty of the half or completely forgotten corners of the country still lives raw, painful patriotism that never reaches Washington DC.
It is as if the great, astounding, immense open countryside, that not so long ago was home to different braves, is a home to feeling of belonging born of blood shed- along with prejudices, narrow mindness and backwardness as astonishing as the willingness to sacrifice and to be sacrificed. As the film says: Ironically, if there were more Chances, there would be no need for the Marines.
There have been bumper stickers floating around for a while now that read something like “Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam,” and sometimes it feels like the war in Iraq is my generation’s Vietnam. However, there are some very significant differences, especially where the media is concerned. With Vietnam the carnage was brought into people’s living rooms and many suggest this was a large part of the reason for our withdrawal from that conflict. With Iraq, media coverage is a bit different, with little carnage and maximum action impact./Tragically, what I had hoped would be an incisive look at the cost of war turns out to be a boring, sugarcoated, dramatically uninteresting examination of one man’s attempt to understand war./On the one hand, Chance’s death served absolutely no purpose. He went out (on his day off) on a routine patrol through a nigh-worthless desert “protecting” a country for reasons he couldn’t even name (which isn’t really his fault; I’m not sure anyone can adequately explain our invasion of Iraq at this late date). He was an invader, most likely killed by people who thought (perhaps mistakenly, perhaps not) they were “defending” their homeland. In this light, Taking Chance is a pathetic, surreal spectacle. We see the bodies packed in ice, the gentle cleaning of the body, and insistence on rendering honors every time the casket goes into or out of a vehicle. In some ways, the honor is so completely hollow. I get the feeling that if all of these people wanted to remember and honor PFC Phelps they would do everything in their power to ensure that no other PFCs, or anyone for that matter, has to die in some nameless desert on a dubious mission in a foreign country that never officially attacked America. None of that comes through though, and the film does nothing to bring home the real cost of war, nor does it deal with why we’re over there./If you hate the war and/or the military, Taking Chance will only anger you with its Pollyanna attitude towards soldiers and civilians (and I personally wanted Strobl to encounter an alcoholic, paraplegic veteran just for some balance). Those who go in pro-military or pro-war will be moved by the tragedy of Chance’s death and the heartrending situation it places his family and community in. If, however, you go in with no feelings about the war or its warriors, Taking Chance will be a boring 78 minutes because nothing really happens. Mike Strobl takes the body from Quantico to Wyoming, meeting random supportive people on the way while struggling with his own guilt, but we never see him change, never see anything really happen to him. Quite frankly, the film is boring. This leads me to think that this story should have stayed in the nonfiction realm, with Strobl’s own account and perhaps some documentary footage.
here’s an article about a screening of the movie with four-star generals and Kevin Bacon in attendance.