Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sundance '09: Taking Chance

Welcome to the festival’s biggest sniffler. When the lights came up, the only sound to be heard was the blowing of noses and daping of tissues against red cheeks.

Indie producer Ross Katz (In the BedroomLost in Translation) directs his first film, a true story about senior officer in the Marines escorting the body of a deceased Private to his home.

Kevin Bacon plays Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, bored with his desk work, he decides to escort the body of Private Phelps across the country, an odd request by a officer of senior status. Strobl’s reasoning is none other than Phelps was born and raised in the same Oklahoma town as he.

Taking Chance, the title has several meanings, is a different kind of Iraq War film. Not a single moment takes place overseas, but rather, in the buried remorse of the characters. There is a lot to be learned here. Katz, with vivid accuracy, shows each painful step of how a body ends up in its rightful place. The process is long, arduous and ever-so tedious. Every detail has to be perfect, from the cleaning of the soldier’s nails (which will never be seen because Marines are wearing white gloves when they are buried), to the saluting of the casket nearly every time it passes by.

I was facisinated by the process, but even more by the film. There are several moving, extended scenes during the travel home in which the story is told entirely with an outstanding musical score. Ten minutes will pass between words being spoken, all we have is the 60-piece orchastra to fill the sound barrier. The images, presented with beautiful fluidity by cinematographer Alar Kivilo, will dazzle you. I’ve rarely seen middle America presented so flawlessly.

Bacon arguably gives the best performance of his famoulsly underrated career. He plays Strobl to restrained perfection, hardly ever letting his emotions take over, even as they resonate deeply inside of him. Credit Katz for sticking to the story, rather than throwing in some fictional conflict to make the film more cinematic.

The film, while earnest and heartfelt, will lose some of its melodrama on the small screen, when HBO premires it in Feburary. This is a movie that, in a dark theatre, will cause you to care. But in your living room your mind may wonder. It deserves a bigger treatment.

When Katz introduced the film, he mentioned that most of us are desensitized to war images on CNN, himself included. He said he made this film as a way to re-sensitize himself and maybe a few others. After watching Taking Chance you’ll find yourself caring once again. A-

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