I didn’t plan to watch this film, nor did I plan to celebrate Memorial Day in such a commemorative way, but both of those things happened. I’m glad they did.
If you can spare about an hour and fifteen minutes, I highly recommend this film. It’s not particularly exciting—there isn’t really a plot, and the sparse dialogue must have made for a lightweight script—but what it lacks in shiny pizzazz, it makes up for in gravitas.
Taking Chance is based on a true story, one that I think translated elegantly to film; then again, HBO has a way with making most of the stories it tells look very elegant. But the story—of Lt. Col. Michael Strobl’s voluntary journey from Dover to Wyoming to escort the body of Chance Phelps, who was from Strobl’s hometown—left plenty of room for artistic freedom for the director, Ross Katz, who chose to emphasize the small, tactile, sensory things. With all the silence and subtle music, small movements and grand gestures alike were put on the same minimalist stage. Every blink on Strobl’s face—portrayed ever-so-stoically by Kevin Bacon—contained meaning, as did every salute he made toward the body, every respectful smile that swept across the mouths of observers, every tear from the deceased’s loved ones, every meticulous drop of embalming fluid (if you’ve seen Six Feet Under, you don’t have to worry) and every beautiful pan of the American countryside.
The movie moved slow, but despite its simplicity, it was never dull. In fact, it was completely mesmerizing, especially to someone like me who’s unfamiliar with all of the formalities and pomp and circumstance of the armed forces. Say what you will about the military, but these guys know how to honor one of their own. And Bacon’s Strobl was the epitome of the honorable servant. His obedience and loyalty was incredibly obvious and assuring, which is a testament to both the real Strobl and to Bacon’s versatile acting abilities. He barely looked like the frolicking Footloose-r of his younger days; in fact, he and Chris Cooper could play siblings soon! But that isn’t to say that Bacon still doesn’t have it. In fact, one of the movie’s only light-hearted moments came with a comment about his good looks: A girl sitting next to him on a plane texted her friend to say “HOT Soldier sitting next to me!” and when Strobl glanced over at her and read the text, he replied, “I’m a marine, actually,” with a flattered glimmer in his eye. Good stuff.
The only other thing that made me laugh was a random one-line part performed by Mr. Schuester. Yeah, that’s right, Matthew Morrison from Glee. This guy was too pretty to play a small-town Wyomingan (or whatever they’re called), and he just stood out like a sore thumb in that bar they went to. Enver Gjokaj, on the other hand, blended in perfectly as the fallen soldier’s former commander.
It all boils down to this: If you’re looking for a way to honor the troops, consider watching this movie. It’ll make you appreciate everything they do for us, it’ll make you more aware of soldiers when you see them in real life, and it’ll make you a bigger fan of Kevin Bacon. If that’s even possible.
Happy Memorial Day, everyone.