It feels wrong to trash a movie like Taking Chance, which deals with the highly delicate subject matter of transporting the remains of a killed in action U.S. marine, yet ambivalence and sheer boredom won out over the film's intended reaction of heart tugging sympathy. The movie is "based on actual events" as the credits tell us, from a 20 page journal written by Marine lieutenant colonel Mike Strobl (played by Kevin Bacon). Strobl, a Desert Storm veteran, is now a military number cruncher who spends every night perusing the names on an Iraq War casualty list. The name of Chance Phelps catches his attention, as the two hail from the same Colorado hometown. Despite his seniority, he volunteers as an escort for Phelps' remains, which comprises the bulk of the movie as the two embark on their solemn road trip.
The film treats its subject matter with the utmost dignity, taking a neutral stance on the political arguments of the war and focusing on the escort ritual and its accompanying procedural elements, as well as the personal effect on Strobl and the people he crosses paths with. It just doesn't make for a remotely interesting dramatic film - a documentary on the subject would have had more of an impact. Scene after scene shows Strobl encountering sympathetic looks and well-wishes from those that see him alongside the coffin draped with an American flag, as he reverently salutes constantly. One scene in particular rankles - it shows Strobl driving behind an SUV carrying the coffin to a funeral home and as other vehicles go to pass the two cars we see their headlights come on. As the camera pans back we see it has now turned into an impromptu 12 car funeral procession. At this point, it just feels like we're being hit over the head with a sentimentality club. It doesn't help that a weepy, manipulative score intrudes ad nauseum.
Bacon plays his character with a rigid, emotionless understatement, choosing to let his stoic demeanor replace wordy displays conveying his pride and honour. This makes it difficult to connect with him, presenting a serious problem in a movie where he is the constant figure that also relies on changing faces to tell the story.
At a scant 77 minutes that still manages to drag, Taking Chance may not work well as a movie, but it is a noble endeavour that reminds us of the human cost of war, shining a light on something that has been embarrassingly swept under the rug by the Department of Defense since 1991, who decreed back then that virtually all media coverage of deceased military personnel returning home be banned (the policy is now being reconsidered).