Monday, June 20, 2011

Taking Chance: Too Good to be a Television Movie

The HBO Films movie Taking Chance is a movie that most people would be likely to categorize as understated and this description would be meant in a good way. The Internet Movie Database categorizes this 2009 movie under television, but it did premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Inspired by actual events, this drama centers on Lieutenant Colonel Mike Strobl (USMC) accompanying the remains of Marine Chance Phelps back to his home in Wyoming. The movie is touching, but one of its most endearing features is the restraint shown in the making of the film.

I have liked several movies with Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13 and A Few Good Men for example), but this is one of his best performances. He plays a restrained Marine who, along with the audience, is continually surprised at his reception as he makes his way across the United States. Not only is Bacon's acting intentionally restrained to powerful effect, but the movie itself is somewhat restrained. It does not take a stand for or against the war in which Chance Phelps was killed, but instead focuses on the reaction of everyday residents of the United States as they learn what Bacon's character's assignment is.

Because the movie does not focus on the nature of the war itself or on opinions of the war itself, the film is able to concentrate on the process that is undertaken to return a soldier's remains to his hometown and on the human side of this process. Regarding this process, the IMDB page for Taking Chance states:
The Defense Department had banned virtually all media coverage of deceased vets returning home since the 1991 Gulf War until April 2009. But the military offered advice and assistance, providing Taking Chance's film crew with a rarely viewed but painstakingly accurate account of the care and protocol bestowed upon the nation's fallen warriors.

Some reviewers of "Taking Chance" have found political motive in it, but I think those reviewers are generally missing the point and are reading far more into its motivations than is there. In my opinion, this movie does not glorify war, but instead demonstrates peoples' natural inclination to honor those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for something they believe in. Indeed the movie has been viewed favorably by a wide variety of reviewers (both formal critics and informal everyday folks) who have seen it. rates "Taking Chance" as 76 (out of 100 and in the green category representing "generally favorable reviews"). Rotten Tomatoes's review of Taking Chance (which cites 2008 for the movie's release year) has "no consensus yet" for the critics' reviews because there are only six reviews (with 50% positive and 50% negative), but there are over 3000 audience ratings that average 4 out of 5 (83% approval). With nearly 6000 votes on IMDB, "Taking Chance" has a rating of 7.3 out of 10 as of this writing.

I have two broad categories of "really good movies." One category is the "really good movie" that I watch repeatedly because I like it so much. These are often anything but intellectual and I watch them simply for entertainment. These are movies like Men in Black, Fletch, The Empire Strike Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Inception.

The second category of "really good movie" is the movie that I am pleasantly surprised by and am really glad I saw once because of its impact on me and what it taught me, but often I don't watch them frequently after that. Movies like Schindler's List and Life is Beautiful are examples of this category.

For me, "Taking Chance" is in the second category: I was very pleasantly surprised with how engaging this movie is despite its understated nature and deliberately gentle pace. That being stated, it is not the type of movie I plan to watch repeatedly. It had huge effect the first time I saw it, but I prefer relaxing movies (often comedies) for repeated viewing and "Taking Chance" is just too deep for that.

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