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Ross Katz
Kevin Bacon, Tom Aldredge, Nicholas Art, Blanche Baker, Tom Bloom, Guy Boyd, James Castanien, Gordon Clapp
Writing Credits:
Ross Katz, Michael Strobl

Based on the true experiences of Lt. Colonel Michael Strobl, who wrote eloquently of them in a widely circulated 2004 article, Taking Chance is a profoundly emotional look at the military rituals taken to honor its war dead, as represented by a fallen Marine killed in Iraq, Lance Corporal Chance Phelps. Working as a strategic analyst at Marine Corps Base Quantico in VA, Lt. Col. Strobl (Kevin Bacon) learns that Phelps had once lived in his hometown, and volunteers to escort the body to its final resting place in Wyoming. As Strobl journeys across America, he discovers the great diligence and dignity in how the military, and all those involved with preparing and transporting the body, handle their duties. Equally important, he encounters hundreds of people affected by Chances death, a vast majority of whom never knew him. This collective grieving eventually causes Lt. Col. Strobl, a veteran of Desert Storm now assigned to office duty, to probe his own guilt about not re-deploying to Iraq for the current conflict. Arriving in Wyoming, Lt. Col. Strobl completes his catharsis when he encounters Chances gracious family and friends, and discovers an extraordinary outpouring of community support.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.78:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 78 min.
Price: $19.97
Release Date: 5/12/09

• Deleted Scene
• “Bearing Witness” Featurette
• “The Real Chance Phelps” Featurette
• “From Script to Screen” Featurette


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Taking Chance (2009)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 29, 2009)

We’ve gotten a mix of movies related to the Iraq War over the years, but 2009’s Taking Chance approaches the topic from an unusual point of view. Set in the spring of 2004, Lance Corporal Chance Phelps dies in combat. This means another soldier needs to escort the remains from Iraq to LCpl. Phelps’ home in Wyoming.

When he learns they both came from the same hometown, 17-year veteran Lt. Colonel Michael Strobl (Kevin Bacon) volunteers for this task. He feels somewhat guilty that he remains stateside during the war, so he appears to feel that this offers a way for him to do his part. The movie traces his path as he delivers LCPl. Phelps to his final resting place.

Whatever ones thinks of the war in Iraq – noble endeavor to deliver freedom to a troubled region or misbegotten mess in which lives have been needlessly lost – one must respect the efforts of the soldiers. Chance provides a method to honor the troops who made the ultimate sacrifice, and it does so well. It takes us to a world that the vast majority of folks will never see.

Many of us – me included – may not really understand all the rituals that go into the journey depicted here, and the film allows us to see the intricacies of the different components. Some may seem like pointless gestures, but my opinion is totally irrelevant. They matter to the people involved, and that’s the important thing.

Chance follows these steps and movements in an intricate, almost loving manner. It shows us the many aspects of the trip each deceased soldier takes, and it allows us to understand how much work goes into that journey. Those become the film’s most memorable moments, as we see the care that goes into each soldier’s trek.

When Chance focuses on those – which it does most of the time - it provides a moving, emotional experience. The film occasionally missteps. We get a little too much of Strobl’s “midlife crisis” and his survivor’s guilt, and the movie falters a bit during its third act. That’s when we actually learn more about LCpl. Phelps, and I’m not sure I really want to know about him.

Why? Because I think Chance fares best when it acts as a representative for all the fallen soldiers. We know nothing of LCpl. Phelps before his demise, and no actor plays him at any point. I like that because it allows us to view him as an Any Soldier and thus appreciate his sacrifice and final journey as an emblem for all his comrades. When we get to know LCpl. Phelps a little better, the film loses some of its universal appeal.

In addition, the elements that examine Strobl’s mindset slightly distract us from the movie’s main focus. While Chance doesn’t veer onto that path with much frequency, I still think it might concentrate on Strobl a wee bit more than necessary. I want the emphasis to be on the journey, not the man who takes it.

These are minor quibbles, though, especially since Chance does so much right. They’re also “rock and a hard place” choices. If the film had totally ignored details of LCpl. Phelps’ life or not told us anything about Strobl, it might’ve seemed too distanced and clinical. I think it could’ve dialed back those elements a bit, but I don’t want to leave the impression that they’re major components.

I comment on them mainly because I find the rest of Chance to be so impressive that even minor missteps stand out as notable. It’s tough to take on a story like this and not make it cheesy or sentimental. Director Ross Katz walks a fine line and manages to keep Chance emotional but not sappy. He presents the material in such a respectful way that the film comes across with its dignity intact but it never lacks power.

I dare anyone to get through this movie without ever becoming wet-eyed. It takes a lot for a flick to really move me, but Chance comes with many segments that prompt an emotional response. It doesn’t milk these in an obvious tearjerker way, but it invests itself in the natural feelings of the moments and provokes an appropriate reaction.

Those sequences – and an intimate appreciation for what happens with fallen soldiers – are what you’ll come away with when you watch Taking Chance. A quiet, lovely exploration of a Marine’s final journey, the film occasionally stumbles in small ways, but it remains on target the vast majority of the time.

One note about LCpl. Phelps’ rank: at the time of his death, he remained known as a Private First Class. However, it was later discovered that he qualified for a promotion to Lance Corporal before his demise; this simply got lost during the chaos of war. I felt it made sense to designate his appropriate rank during my comments.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B/ Bonus C-

Taking Chance appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie came with a mediocre transfer.

Sharpness was acceptable but not great. Some of the problems stemmed from the moderate edge enhancement that cropped up through the film. Those haloes meant that wider shots tended to look a bit ill-defined and iffy. Occasional examples of jagged edges and shimmering also created some distractions. Source flaws were essentially absent, though I noticed a few small specks.

Colors were fine. The movie stayed with a natural palette that boasted a slightly golden tint, and the hues were perfectly decent. Blacks looked dark and tight, while shadows presented good clarity. The issues with sharpness and the like created the majority of the concerns, and they left this as a “C+” image.

I found more life in the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack than I expected. I figured this would be a somber, low-key mix, and it often was. This wasn’t a film that needed a really lively soundscape.

However, the movie did start with a literally explosive moment, and other elements such as scenes at airports or LCpl. Chance’s VFW Hall memorial added punch to the piece. Music showed good stereo imaging, and the various effects – both loud and soft – contributed nice scope to the piece. The soundfield provided a solid feel for the material.

Audio quality was always positive. Speech seemed natural and concise, without edginess or other problems. Music sounded lush and warm, while effects displayed good clarity. The louder moments provided strong low-end response. This was a very nice auditory presentation.

Expect a small array of extras here. One Deleted Scene runs one minute, 55 seconds. Entitled “I’ll Watch Over Him”, this sequence offers a minor addition to an existing part of the film. Director Ross Katz provides an introductory note that tells us why he cut the short segment. The scene shows a little more of the Marine brotherhood but was probably a good omission.

Three featurettes follow.
Bearing Witness goes for 23 minutes and provides notes from Chance Phelps’ mother Gretchen Mack, sister Kelly Phelps-Orndoff, stepfather Jeff Mack, father John Phelps, squad leader Sgt. Ben Wormington, squad members Sgt. John McMurrin, L. Cpl. Dennis Young, L. Cpl. Shane Smith, Sgt. Erik Halfmann and Cpl. Jorge Segura, vehicle commander Sgt. James Cooper, recruiter Gy. Sgt. Charles White, best friend Emmett Nottingham, platoon commander 1st Lt. Dan Robertson (ret.), assistant division commander B. Gen. John F. Kelly, USMC escort/writer Lt. Col. Michael R. Strobl (ret.), and step mother Chris Phelps. “Witness” tells us a bit about LCpl. Phelps’ life, his military career, and how Strobl developed his story. It’s nice to see the real people behind the movie, and “Witness” offers a good look at the facts involved. It also acts as a fine memorial.

The Real Chance Phelps lasts six minutes, one seconds, and includes remarks from Gretchen Mack, Kelly Phelps-Orndoff, Nottingham, John Phelps, producer Lori Keith Douglas, Strobl, director/co-writer Ross Katz, and actor Kevin Bacon. We learn a little more about LCpl. Phelps and a bit about the movie. Don’t expect much from this piece, as it fails to add much that we didn’t already get in “Witness”.

Lastly, From Script to Screen fills five minutes, 17 seconds with comments from Bacon, Katz, Strobl, Gretchen Mack, Phelps-Orndoff, Douglas, John Phelps, military advisor MSgt. Vic Szalankiewicz III, and executive producer Brad Krevoy. We get some notes about the story’s origins and its adaptation for the screen. Like “Real”, this one is fairly promotional. A smattering of good details emerge but it remains pretty general.

The DVD also opens with an ad for HBO Films.

After scads of war-related films from over the decades, one might wonder what fresh territory remains to be explored. Taking Chance takes us down an unfamiliar path in a very satisfying and moving glimpse of what happens to soldiers after they die in combat. The movie avoids over-sentimental traps and sticks with the natural emotions as it gives us a great appreciation for its subject matter. The DVD provides pretty good audio but picture quality seems lackluster and we don’t find many extras. While this never becomes an impressive disc, the movie itself definitely earns my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3636 Stars Number of Votes: 22
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