A new addition to the list of things that have me completely overcome in a matter of seconds.
If you haven’t watched Taking Chance on HBO, the true story of two marines and how their lives intersected, I’d recommend you don’t unless you have a tissue – or even a convenient sleeve - nearby. If you’re like me, you may be taken by surprise when you feel the first tear slip away. You won’t quite know why, but at one point or another you will feel your eyes fill up. Your throat will get just a little tighter and the screen will blur just slightly for a little while.
The story, on its surface, is deceptively simple. Kevin Bacon plays Marine Colonel Mike Strobel who escorts a soldier, PFC Chance Phelps, from Dover Air Force base to his home in Wyoming. Phelps was killed in Iraq and Strobel is his escort home. During that trip, Mike finds himself questioning his own role as a “paper pusher” in the Marine Corps, although he was deployed during the first Iraq war.
If I had to choose two words to describe this movie they would be respectful; quiet. I have loved Kevin Bacon’s acting forever but I have never seen him perform a role with such quiet control. His movements are controlled and tight. Even at the local VFW post, where friends and other soldiers gather to celebrate Chance’s life, Bacon maintains his respectful distance as he sits and listens respectfully to the stories told about the fallen soldier. His smiles are small; his glances are attentive; his tone is measured.
Toward the end of the evening, Chance's very good friend tells Cpl. Strobel about the day of the attack. The silence that endures – for a very long time – as he relates the circumstances of Chance’s death is exquisite and painful. The simple expresson of comfort Strobel offers him is powerful.
There is only one moment during the film where you feel anger in Bacon’s character and its directed at himself. He questions aloud – during a talk with a Marine who saw his action in Korea about sixty years ago - and berates himself for his choice to work in an office, and not go overseas.
When Mike meets the family to deliver Chance’s belongings, I could barely breathe. His speech to them, about the family not mourning alone, was almost too much to bear. The cut away shots during the hand off of the dog-tags and Chance’s watch are devastating. You’ll understand when you watch the scene.
My dad was a Marine and you know what they say about Marines: Old Marines never die – they just go to hell and regroup. Maybe that’s why this movie had the effect it did on me. My Dad loved the Marine Corps until the day he died. The men who portray Marines in the film clearly feel the same way about their service to the country.
What is entirely absent from this movie is anger, regret or judgment about the military or dying for your country. The love of country is palpable and real, although never overplayed or overwrought.
To me, the movie is a testament to everyone who ever wore a uniform for this country. To me, it’s irrelevant where you stand on Iraq, Afghanistan or any other place in the world that is viewed – at least by some – as an enemy of this country. It’s not about “the troops” or “the war on terror” or which side of the argument you embrace philosophically. The film is much smaller but much bigger than that. It’s about two men. Both of their stories will touch you and move you to tears. And ultimately leave you inspired by their honor.