Over a year ago, Father Jim, who at the time was one of our parish priests, gave one of his typically brilliant homilies. In the course of doing so he made reference to a made-for-cable-movie (HBO) entitled Taking Chance. Although I don't remember all of the specifics of the homily anymore, nor how Father Jim artfully connected this movie to the scriptures we had heard in the liturgy that Sunday, I do remember him recounting with tears in his eyes the sacrifice, honor, and respect portrayed in this movie.
I was curious what it was about this movie that had left such a powerful impression on my priest, to the point where I still recall his emotional recounting of this movie a year and a half later.
I made it a point to watch Taking Chance.... and then I understood.
In this rare and exceptional movie, Kevin Bacon plays Marine Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, a career military man who volunteers to accompany the body of a dead Marine, 19-year-old Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, as he is returned from Iraq to his family for burial.
It is a solemn duty that Colonel Strobl does not take lightly. The journey, as told in the movie, shows how those in the military and in our country pay the deepest respect to one of our fallen heroes. The portrayals are not over the top but simply convey the profound respect and sadness that most of us feel when confronted with this reality.
The screenplay for Taking Chance was coauthored by the real Colonel Strobl, now retired from the Marine Corps, and is based on the journal that Strobl wrote during the journey. The depth of emotion and respect comes through on screen with great sincerity and truthfulness accordingly.
Kevin Bacon as Lieutenant Colonel Strobl does a masterful job with the part. He does not overplay the emotion in a falsely sentimental way but rather remains stoic and yet somehow deeply affected by his journey just the same as he is taking Lance Corporal Chance Phelp's body home to his final resting place. It is undoubtedly Bacon's finest performance I have ever seen.
The movie is very understated in so many ways. There is no violence, cursing, explosions or even excessive or complicated dialogue in Taking Chance. The effect of sadness and respect are even more powerful because of this.
Towards the end of the film when Strobl briefly expresses regret that his role of "escort" feels hollow because of his own personal self-disappointment, a Korean War vet reprimands him. "Without a witness," he tells Strobl, Phelps would just "disappear."
Regardless of what your views are about war, I would most highly recommend viewing Taking Chance. It is one of those rare movies that proves the axiom that "less is more" and more importantly it leaves a deep and lasting impression on a person as to what honor and respect truly are. Having purchased and seen the movie several times, I understand now why Father Jim was affected the way he was. I was too.