How many times have you heard someone say, “Now that would make a great movie”? Sometimes they’re right, but filmmakers are too often beguiled by the subject matter itself and the idea falls short when adapted to the screen. Afraid of dramatic license which may offend the real-life people involved, and overconfident that the narrative is so powerful it could tell itself without much in the way of storytelling construction, Taking Chance is a victim of this artistic beguilement. It’s so well-meaning that it ultimately means nothing much at all.
Based on the journals of Lt. Colonel Michael Strobel, the film stars Kevin Bacon as the guilt-ridden Marine working a desk job while his buddies risk their lives in Iraq. While going through casualty reports he stumbles across the name of a deceased soldier from his hometown of Clifton, Colorado, and though he never knew him personally, Strobel immediately volunteers to escort the body back home. The rest of the film tediously chronicles Strobel’s patriotic commitment to honoring his fallen brother mostly through the act of looking mournful, saluting, and receiving the predictable respect of everyone he meets along his journey home. Bacon salutes so many times in the film that he must’ve developed a severe case of tendonitis.
Taking Chance wants nothing to do with the controversial politics of the Iraq War. What it does want is to inspire feelings of patriotism and honor but it never rises above empty sentimentalism. Repetitive images of a flag-draped coffin accompanied by violins (and more saluting) simply cannot replace dramatic writing. This is lazy filmmaking that fails to engage anyone who doesn’t have a personal connection to the story or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of well-drawn characters or real human drama, we are presented with a military procedural on burial traditions. The film desperately wants the viewer to shed tears for its fallen hero without giving a single dramatic reason to do so.