Film Review: Taking Chance

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PARK CITY -- Unless they have lost a family member in combat, few Americans probably realize the U.S. military provides a uniformed escort to bring home the remains of all battlefield casualties. "Taking Chance" follows one officer who brings a young Marine killed in Iraq back to his family and burial ground in Wyoming.

Director Ross Katz, who co-wrote the script with Lt. Col. Michael R. Strobl, USMC (Ret.), the man whose journey the film chronicles, hopes that the accumulation of details from this sad passage will demonstrate how Americans, both in and out of the service, react with respect and honor toward the nation's fallen.

While not without moments of powerful emotions, a movie so lacking in dramatic conflict and missing its central figure must rely entirely on the audience itself to supply heart-felt reactions to the rituals and symbols in this movement from battlefield to final resting place.

The film, a dramatic competition entry in Sundance, airs on HBO Feb. 21.

As Strobl, Kevin Bacon scarcely changes expressions throughout the 82-minute film. He volunteers for the duty to escort the remains of 19-year-old Lance Corporal Chance Phelps for reasons that aren't clear until near the end. The request is certainly highly unusual since he is a high-ranking officer.

The iced body is shipped from Germany to the States, where it is washed and prepped while the marine's effects are cleared of any blood or dirt. The body is then lowered into a casket with its own bar code.

Lt. Col. Strobl collects the remains at a Delaware mortuary and by vehicles and airplanes spends two days crossing the country. Each time the casket comes off a plane, a "slow salute" greets the fallen hero.

Strobl's brief encounters with a driver, pilot, passengers, a reservations clerk, flight attendant and others display an array of reactions to Strobl's heavy burden. The long drive from the airport to Chance's home becomes an impromptu motorcade with other vehicles on the highway. The marine's homecoming gives the officer insight into what kind of man Chance was and how he nobly died.

When Strobl notices that Chance's family has requested donations to provide flak jackets for soldiers in Iraq, the thought occurs that if our government spent as much time and money on such jackets as it does on returning remains to loved ones, perhaps not so many journeys would be necessary.

But this is not a political movie. It focuses as rigidly as a slow salute on the rituals that honor the military dead. It should be reported that this visibly moved an audience at Sundance.

Production: HBO Films, Motion Picture Corporation of America, Civil Dawn Pictures
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Tom Aldredge, Nicholas Reese Art, Blanche Baker, Tom Bloom, Guy Boyd
Director: Ross Katz
Screenwriters: Michael R. Strobl, Ross Katz
Based on the journal: Lt. Col Michael R. Strobl, USMC (Ret.)
Producer: Lori Keith Douglas
Executive producers: Brad Krevoy, Cathy Wischner-Sola, Ross Katz
Director of photography: Alar Kivilo
Production designer: Dan Leigh
Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Costume designer: David C. Robinson
Editor: Lee Percy, Brian A. Kates
No rating, 82 minutes