HBO Films’ Taking Chance – Kevin Bacon, Michael Strobl Interview
The overwhelming comment that we got was either "I was surprised at the tone of the film" or surprised at just what the reality of escort duty is.
There are no on-screen explosions in Taking Chance, a new television movie from HBO Films, Civil Dawn Pictures and Motion Picture Corporation of America. There are few confrontations, no car chases. But in its quiet way, it provides 80 minutes of some of the most intense drama likely to be seen on television this year.
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It debuts February 21 at 8:00 pm Eastern Time. It will be rebroadcast four more times between February 21–24 and twice on HBO2 on February 26, and it will be available for an extended time on HBO on Demand.
Based on a journal written by U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, Taking Chance is the story of his cross-country journey in 2004 as escort for the body of Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, a 19-year-old Marine killed in action in Iraq.
Strobl originally typed up his 20 pages of journal notes—which had begun simply as the "trip report" that escorts are required to file—and showed it to a few friends. Soon, it was making the rounds of military Internet sites. Now, it is a film starring Kevin Bacon as Lt. Col. Strobl. The family of Chance Phelps approved the making of the film.
Taking Chance is not a war movie. It is not a movie about Iraq. It isn’t even about a single fallen solider coming home.
"What ultimately struck me (on the escort trip) to the point that I was moved to write the story in the first place (is) the decency for every American. That’s what I experienced on the trip. I hope that when other families —military families—see the movie, they’ll be reminded how much goodness there is out there and how much people really care."
With assistance from Dover Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, the film takes viewers behind of the scenes of how America’s fallen warriors are returned to the U.S., how their bodies are prepared and processed and sent to their families for burial. Bags of ice placed around a body bag within a shipping container melt and the water has to be vacuumed out. Personal effects are removed and blood washed from them and from the body. A bar-coded label is printed and attached to the shipping container.
It is a sobering, efficient, essential process few have seen before, even within the military, that has been carried out at Dover over 50,000 times since 1955.
A single escort accompanies every fallen member of America’s military on the trip from Dover to his or her burial place. Lieutenant Colonel Strobl volunteers to escort the body of Chance Phelps, mistakenly believing they are from the same town.
Along the route to Wyoming, one person after another performs acts of kindness, and the lieutenant colonel comes to realize these are not so much for him as for the young man whose body he is escorting.
The quality of the acting, directing and film-editing make this simple story a moving experience that remains with viewers long after the final credits roll. Impressive for its absence of clichés or over-dramatization, it is neither a John Wayne flag-waver nor an Oliver Stone question-authority film. In many ways, it is best compared to an Andrew Wyeth painting: powerful because of its nuances of strength, beauty and sadness. Parts of it may be difficult to watch, but at the same time, it is an affirmation of the best in human beings.
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