A beneficial spinoff of the Corona pandemic induced lockdown has been that I have been able to catch up on some great movies in the free time that most of us have been forced to endure. Although there were several remarkable movies I saw recently, the most memorable one that comes to my mind is ‘Taking Chance’. The title itself is non-committal and does not give one a clue what the storyline might actually be. The photo of Kevin Bacon, the protagonist, in an army uniform, and the plot synopsis on Hotstar does give a broad hint that the movie has something to do with the delivery of the remains of a marine to his home. However, what follows is nothing short of spellbinding.
The movie is set in the year 2004 and was released in the year 2009. It has been directed by Ross Katz, and Kevin Bacon plays the lead role of a Marine Lt. Col. (Michael Strobl) who volunteers to accompany the remains of a slain soldier to his home county for his funeral rites.
‘Chance’ is a Private in the US Marine Corps, PFC Chance Phelps, who is martyred in action in Iraq in 2004. His remains have been flown to the United States and must be accompanied by someone to be handed over to his family in his home state. Lt Col Michael Strobl, volunteers for this duty although this is not the usual procedure and the remains are usually escorted by a junior or sub- officer level soldier. However, Strobl is feeling guilty for not having volunteered for action, and taking a desk job instead to be able to better look after his family. Thus when he looks at the list of casualties that the U.S. army is sustaining every day, he feels that accompanying a fallen soldier is the least he can do to contribute his bit towards the cause for which so many young men are laying down their lives.
The movie shows how the remains of the soldier are received at the Dover Port Mortuary and then prepared by the morticians there, his personal effects cleaned, a new dress stitched for him, and the casket for his final journey prepared in a way befitting a fallen marine. The movie is strongest in the small conversations that Col Strobl has with a variety of characters he meets along the way, from the driver of the vehicle which delivers the casket to the airport terminal, to the mortician, to the woman at the airport check in counter who upgrades the Colonel to First Class, realising what a great burden this soldier is carrying. The movie brings out the inherent goodness of the people, and the little gestures they do touch the heart of the person watching the movie.
All along the movie there are several incidences which will leave the audience with tears in their eyes. A good example is when the stewardess of the flight, knowing who the Colonel is accompanying, ushers the Colonel to his seat and takes care that he is comfortable. The expression on her face gives away what is going on in her mind when she comes to him later, with tears in her eyes and hands him a small metallic crucifix saying, ‘I want you to have it’. The crucifix is obviously meant for the fallen soldier and not for the Colonel who is merely accompanying the remains. The poignancy of the moment, however, is beyond words.
Later, when the casket is being offloaded at the destination airport and the Colonel salutes the casket, he is joined by the Captain of the aircraft, several ground crew and some passengers, who have disembarked from the plane. Everyone is standing around the unloading casket, hats in hand and tears in their eyes.
Another memorable incidence, out of several in the movie, is when the Colonel is met at the destination airport by a representative of the funeral home and they start to drive the casket back to the funeral parlour. The hearse car drives in front while Kevin Bacon drives in another car behind the hearse. On their way through the countryside, several vehicles, including a large truck, realise that the two cars are carrying the remains of a soldier and an impromptu cavalcade forms with the cars in the cavalcade driving with their headlights on to pay their last respects to the fallen hero.
The remains finally reach the soldier’s home town where Kevin Bacon meets with his parents and other family members and personally hands over to them the personal effects of the soldier which he has kept with himself throughout the journey, even annoying a TSA officer on the way for refusing to part with the belongings of the soldier. The personal effects contain a wooden cross on a chain, a St Christopher medallion, a wristwatch and his dog tags. If you can watch the scene where the family receives the personal effects of the soldier, and later the funeral, without shedding a tear, all my efforts in writing this blog have been a waste.
A must watch, I will say.
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Link to Amazon India – https://www.amazon.in/dp/9352016890?ref=myi_title_dp