Grace is Gone
Topical movies on the
current war in Iraq have been met with serious resistance. With the approval
rating of the war hovering around 30% in the US, people don't seem to want
to go to the multiplexes to ponder a war that many consider a mistake - and
those who believe the cause to be just are probably just as adamant about
not wanting to see a film that quite probably demeans a cause they believe
It's not really a new
problem, serious movies about Vietnam (such as Coming Home and The
Deer Hunter) didn't start showing up until 1978, four years after the
war was over. Films made during the war tended to be more jingoistic pro-war
propaganda like The Green Berets. The first war in Iraq also really
did not become the inspiration for thoughtful films until years later, such
as Three Kings, BlackHawk Down and Jarhead.
However, the current war in
Iraq is possibly even more divisive than Vietnam (and certainly more than
Desert Storm). Many, in and out of Hollywood, have strong opinions of Bush's
war and it has inspired some great documentaries. Unlike most other past
wars though, dramatic films which are making pointed social commentary (not
always negative) about the conflict are flowing out even before the war has
any end in sight. (Though, this may have something to do with the fact that
the war has already lasted significantly longer than Desert Storm and almost
as long as Vietnam.) The quality of these films (which include such titles
as Stop Loss, In the Valley of Elah, Redacted, Rendition, Blue State
and War Inc.) has been mixed: some are quite thought-provoking while
others may be a little harder to get behind.
little different because it tries to take a more intimate look at effects of
the war - not by focusing on the battles or politics of Iraq themselves but
by looking at the consequences of the war for the people who are left behind
at home. Grace is Gone
The title soldier, Grace
Philipps, is never seen except in snapshots. She is not heard except for on
two answering machine messages (one outgoing, one incoming). Yet her life -
and her death - set in motion a series of events that drive this
occasionally far-fetched but mostly touching drama.
The film instead revolves
around her husband, Stanley, played by John Cusack. Stanley believes in the
war - in fact he would be there himself if not for his bad eyesight. One day
he answers the door and finds two men in uniform looking for him. Being former
military he knows what it means and tries not to let them into the house, in
a shell-shocked misguided hope that if he doesn't allow the soldiers to tell
him his wife was killed in battle then she will somehow still be alive.
Stanley and Grace have two
daughters: Heidi (Shélan O'Keefe), a smart, quiet and thoughtful
twelve-year-old and Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk), a more innocent and upbeat
eight-year-old. Stanley can not quite bring himself to break the horrible news,
and so on a whim he decides to drop everything to drive them cross-country
to a Florida amusement park where Dawn has been wanting to go. He
rationalizes that he wants them to have a few last days of fun before
learning of their mother's death, however from the outside it seems like a
Dawn is oblivious to what
is happening, but Heidi silently starts to suspect the true meaning behind
her father's sudden erratic behavior and desperate need to keep them happy.
It's a tricky scenario, one
which can be formulaic and manipulative. And, honestly, Grace is Gone
does stumble into formula and manipulation sometimes. However, it is saved
by the uniformly fine acting. Cusack in particular does some of his best
work in years. He allows Stanley to be imperfect - cut off from his
feelings, out of shape, stubborn and in denial. Yet he also finds the deep
reservoir of sorrow in this man who does not know how to communicate that he
is in pain and the true, deep love for his daughters. He doesn't know what to
do, but he knows he wants to shield them from pain for as long as he can.
His scenes with O'Keefe - who deftly avoids any child actress cutesiness and
whose young eyes and expressive face transmit a restless, questing intuition
beyond her years - work particularly well.
Still, too much of the film
you can't help but wonder why Stanley can't level with his daughters. The
road trip doesn't merely seem quixotic, it sometimes seems like it might
actively be detrimental to his daughters' mental development. How will they
react to finding out their father has known for days that their mother was
dead and didn't tell them? Will waiting until after the park trip to break
it to the girls warp their ideas of parks and pleasure trips for the rest of
their lives? Will they never be able to think of the Enchanted Garden
without crying because their father could not quite bring himself to tell
them at home? Is it okay to give the girls anything they want as a way to
avoid discussing tragedy?
Still, even if Grace is
Gone is imperfect, it is undeniably moving - particularly in the scene
where the father finally realizes that he can no longer shield his daughters
It just accents the most
basic truth. The real cost of war is in the people killed in combat and the
loved ones who are left behind.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: May 24, 2008.