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Bacon effective in 'Taking Chance'.

Byline: David Kronke, TV Critic

Lt. Col. Michael Strobl's clinical yet plaintive written account of escorting the body of Chance Phelps, a fellow Marine who had been killed in Iraq, from Delaware to a Wyoming cemetery became a viral Internet sensation. It was succinct in its descriptiveness yet vast in its summarizing how a nation of strangers in a series of airports and small towns mourned a man few of them knew and coped with a loss they couldn't quite fathom.

Similarly, "Taking Chance," HBO's film version of Strobl's essay (he co-wrote the film with Ross Katz, who directed), eschews style in favor of sobriety and respect for its subject. And yet, it's fiercely moving, a tragedy that somehow manages, through the depiction of the decency and dignity of those mourning Phelps' death, to be oddly inspirational.

Kevin Bacon stars as Strobl, a career Marine who offers to escort Phelps' body home simply because they came from the same Colorado town (they had never met). It turns out that Phelps' family is having him buried in Wyoming instead, but in the end, that scarcely matters to Strobl.

Dutifully, the film tracks the grim procedures involved in processing soldiers' bodies to return them to their families - affixing bar codes to the body bags, washing the body and its personal effects. Fallen soldiers' bodies must always be feet-forward as they traverse the country.

The film - short (80 minutes, tops) and bittersweet - follows Strobl as he crosses the country with Chance. He encounters a cross-section of sympathetic individuals, particularly airport employees for whom transporting bodies of soldiers has become part of their routine - another escort tells him, "They all know (what I'm doing) without me telling them." A flight attendant even gives him a crucifix. Chance's friends share with Strobl fond, yet rarely extravagant, stories of his character.

"Taking Chance" moves at a stately, respectful pace as Strobl and his precious cargo navigate the country. It varies slightly from Strobl's original essay to bolster its poignancy, sometimes in ways that aren't necessary - what's most moving in both accounts are the prosaic details of appreciative citizens, no matter what their politics, absorbing the toll of war.

Bacon gives another of his stolid turns; appropriate, given the material. Not until the final moments of the film does he really react to what he has experienced on his journey, and it's a quiet, subtle moment that nonetheless speaks volumes. Much like the film itself.

David Kronke, (818) 713-3638

TAKING CHANCE - Three and one half stars

What: Kevin Bacon stars as a Marine who accompanies the body of a fallen colleague back to his hometown.

Where: HBO.

When: 8 and 11:45 tonight; also 7:30 p.m. Sunday, 11:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday.

In a nutshell: A sober, resonant and respectful film.




In "Taking Chance," an always-solid Kevin Bacon portrays a soldier who volunteers to accompany the body of another soldier home for burial.
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 21, 2009
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