Tuesday, March 3, 2009

TV Watch: Taking Chance

Every other review that I've done in these 'TV Watch' items has been about a television series, and so HBO's "Taking Chance" is the first movie-length program that has made the grade.

An official selection of the Sundance Film Festival, this true story is one of the most moving and emotional war films of all-time, yet it contains no more than a couple minutes of actual combat action. Instead, "Taking Chance" tells the story of two men who never meet in life, but whose paths cross in a most unusual and pivotal manner.

Kevin Bacon plays the starring role of United States Marine Colonel Michael Strobl who served his country well in Operation Desert Storm back in the early 1990's and who then drifted later in his career into an office-type desk job position. Strobl is now an analyst with the Department of Defense, and he struggles with his desk job role, particularly when he passes over an opportunity to serve in Iraq in order to remain home and close to his wife and two young children.

His struggle is that of a former warrior who still feels the call of the battlefield, and the responsibility that only those who have warn the uniform can know. That responsibility is not only for your country or municipality, as those in the military or in other uniformed service such as police officers know, but also to your fellow men and women in uniform.

To put it directly, Strobl wrestles with the idea that he may not have done enough in his career to earn his Marine title. He spends some of his off-duty time searching through the Department of Defense website, scouring the casualty lists to see if anyone that he knows or has a connection with has been injured or killed in battle.

One day as he searches the site he comes across the name of PFC Chance Phelps and notices that Phelps comes from the same small hometown as Strobl himself came from. Strobl feels the call to do something, and volunteers for the mission of escort duty, the person who travels with the deceased body from its arrival on U.S. soil through to the funeral home.

This is the dramatic story of Lt. Colonel Strobl and PFC Chance Phelps, their travel together from Philadelphia to Minnesota to the final resting place at Phelps' family home in Wyoming. It is the story of the emotional reaction of regular people, from airline pilots, ground crew, and service staff to Strobl's fellow passengers, to all manner of regular people along the way who take the time to stop and reflect as they see Chance's body being transported, or as they become aware of Strobl's assignment.

Chance Phelps was inspired, as were many young Americans, to join the military after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. These fine men and women understood that the United States of America is not the product of words on a paper, but is in reality the product of men and women like them who were willing to stand up and fight for freedom and democracy.

Phelps was just 19 years old when he was killed in Iraq, but he was highly decorated for such a young man. He was the recipient of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star with Valor, among a number of other decorations. He was also a wise-cracking young man with an infectious sense of humor which he never lost right up to the day he died.

The folks at HBO put together some of the finest work on television today, and that they bring this kind of quality film to the small screen is no surprise. Kevin Bacon does an outstanding, understated job of somehow in the end relating that his is really the supporting character. It is Chance Phelps who is the star, and the story of Michael Strobl taking Chance home is one that you simply should not miss.

NOTE: This is the latest in the 'TV Watch' series, all the reviews of which you can read by clicking in to that below label.

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