Saturday, June 20, 2009


A good Friend at work who also happens to be a damned proud military Mom and an ardent reader of this Blog asked that I view the HBO film, Taking Chance and then offer some commentary. She handed me the just released DVD and seeing Kevin Bacon on the cover (major airbrush) I was reminded immediately of his 1992 role in A Few Good Men where Bacon played prosecuting attorney Colonel Jack Ross in that now iconic military courtroom drama. We all remember Jack Nicholson’s now famous lines spoken by his more or less dark character Colonel Nathan R. Jessep and so I immediately anticipated a spit and polish drama of the first magnitude. It was all that and more.

Taking Chance was a Sundance Film Festival selection and debuted in February of 2009 to rave reviews. It’s an honor and privilege to offer my opinion on this critically acclaimed film if just to counter the few naively subjective cynics and misdirected movie critics like
Ray Greene who just don’t get it. More later.

Taking Chance relates the last somber journey of KIA Marine PFC Chance Russell Phelps from the battlefield of Iraq back to his home and final resting place in Dubois, Wyoming. Until recently the public hasn’t not been allowed to view the protocol surrounding the return of our veterans killed in action in the Middle East. The now lifted Pentagon ban on media coverage of the return of flag-draped coffins of our fallen soldiers from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while respectful to the families, kept us somewhat anesthetized and out of sight and mind until President Obama interceded in early 2009. We thank for their freedom of information action that allowed us to visibly experience this ritual. While Taking Chance was already, mostly, in the can I am amazed that the producers of the movie were able to proceed so openly under this ban. Well, they did and with the full support and cooperation of the US Military, covered themselves in glory.

This movie is no myopic Michael Moore vomit-inspiring propagandist venture, rather is a message of service and sacrifice that has touched all that have viewed it. The vast majority have embraced this non-political film and the accurate portrayal of the military ritual for honoring our war dead. The film discreetly records the spontaneous gestures of kindness, respect and remorse by citizens from all walks of life and by doing so makes its greatest contribution by allowing us even as viewers of the film to participate in this exercise with a real sense of community. We can now more fully embrace and appreciate the significance of returning in respectful circumstance all who have fallen in service to our country to their place of origin.

Yes, “When one falls, another brings him home” and Kevin Bacon does great service to his country in his role as Marine Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, the volunteer military escort officer, who accompanied the body of 19-year-old Marine Chance Phelps from the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base back to his home in Wyoming. While this is Chance’s story, it’s also about Strobl and every member of our armed forces who has made the ultimate sacrifice.

Strobl’s journal entries were the basis of this movie and recount his emotional experiences (mostly controlled) while escorting Phelps cross country. In doing so Strobl experienced his epiphany that assuaged his angst over not being with his comrades in Iraq allowing him to address his demons and reconcile his level of service. It may very well be that Strobl’s greatest service to his country is this story. He brings it home for all of us.

We see the moment of Chance’s death, the transport to Germany then to stateside at Dover Air Force Base and the respectful, pious even reverential preparation of the remains by dedicated volunteers. The movie accurately reflects the cross country trek from Dover to Philadelphia to Minneapolis and then on to Billings then Riverton and the final hearse ride to Dubois, Wyoming and the solemn respect paid by ordinary citizens to one of their own. I could relate more of the carefully recreated, intimate details of this saga, but I don’t want to spoil the experience for the uninitiated.

Like so many subjects we have engaged of late, the story always seems to ultimately be the people and their reactions to Taking Chance. The extraordinary outpouring of appreciation and gratitude for this film has been in stark contrast to the mindless rhetoric of a few to include the aforementioned movie critic Ray Greene who has chosen to disgrace himself by taking the opportunity to offer a personal political statement about a movie devoid of political content. It certainly wasn’t the intent of this writer to provide Greene with a further forum, rather to once again shine the light of day on Greene and his patently disrespectful words.

Ray Greene is so jaded that he perceives the movie as exploitive propaganda and from his academic perch nothing more than formulaic sentimentality. Even if he understood the movie he could only look for a hook for his personal and very subjective opinions. Greene can’t see the forest for the trees and characterized those who paid their respect to Chance as a, “Greek chorus of uncompromised woe.” Greene even castigates and vilifies actor Kevin Bacon and certain aspects his personal life. And what the hell does that have to do with this film? Absolutely nothing. That gives Greene away for what he is and he becomes like this writer, just another citizen offering an opinion. Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s his right and why the Chance Phelps of our world made the ultimate sacrifice. Life is not a Hollywood writer's kum by ya script. We all embrace a perfect world without war – the ultimate goal of any soldier.

Bottom line: As one critic opined, “This is a film about respect and dignity, both in death and in life. And we hope that we may be treated with the same level of careful attention.” Our undying gratitude goes out to Lt. Col. Stroble for allowing us to be part of the process. And that what this movie is all about - the collective WE.

So what happened to that Taking Chance DVD loaned to me? This last Friday it was viewed by a local VFW post in Dallas, Texas. Colonel Buxton would be proud. Embrace the message, spread the word and bring plenty of tissues.


Ned Buxton

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I came upon this movie by accident and Mr. Bacon was already escorting the young man home. When he said that Chance was 'alive' until he stopped moving, I understood exactly what he meant. When he said, "I never knew him before he died, but I miss him," he expressed my feelings.
I don't usually watch movies on the HBO channel because most are not to my liking. I'm glad I stopped long enough on the channel to find out about this one. It was Kevin Bacon's face that stopped me, but it was the story of this young man, Chance Phelps, that kept me watching.