“Taking Chance,” adapted by Marine Lt. Col. Michael Strobl from his journal compiled after volunteering to accompany a fallen Iraq War soldier’s remains back to his hometown in April 2004, proves to be generally inspiring, intense and illuminating. But the story unfortunately is undercut by the wooden performance of the man portraying Strobl in this HBO Films original: the usually dependable Kevin Bacon, who for some reason chooses to depict his military officer as ramrod-straight, inarticulate and nearly emotionless.
It isn’t that Bacon mails it in, either. You can tell he’s trying hard to do proper justice to this honorable family man and his affecting account. But he conveys the sensitivity and respect endemic to his task by internalizing everything and depending on his steely eyes and taut jaw to express the gravity of the moment. It unfortunately proves less than successful, leaving an impression of a statue bedecked in dress blues.
This is particularly disappointing because the film is a worthy tale, with something important to say as it chronicles the esteem and gratitude accorded by random Americans taking seriously their role in bearing witness to the fallen. That simple message colors this 77-minute docudrama co-written by Strobl, now retired, and Ross Katz, who also executive produces and directs. It focuses on the transporting to his final resting place of a 20-year-old from Wyoming named Chance Phelps, who was awarded a Bronze Star after being killed in action just a month after having been deployed to Iraq. The film painstakingly details the lengths the military goes to in honoring its war dead, whom one can argue are accorded more attentive and respectful treatment than those still living.
There surely is an edge of propaganda to the unfailing grace and dignity of the process showcased in “Taking Chance,” replete with stirring music and intermittent mawkish overkill. But the story’s power is sufficient to overcome the occasional histrionic flourish. What it can’t completely surmount is the rigid interpretation delivered by its star. (partialdiff)