Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Grace Is Gone (2007)

USA, 85 minutes
Director/writer: James C. Strouse 
Photography: Jean-Louis Bompoint
Music: Clint Eastwood
Cast: John Cusack, Shélan O'Keefe, Gracie Bednarczyk, Alessandro Nivola

Another movie on the fallout from George W. Bush's war on Iraq—seems like I watched a lot of them last year (behind as usual). This one is a kind of road move through the looking glass. John Cusack's Stanley Phillips, an ex-military man now a retail sales manager for a big box outlet in suburban Minnesota, learns that his wife, also in the service but still on active duty, has died in Iraq. Not yet ready to tell his two girls, 12 and 8, he simply packs them up, leaves his job behind, and sets out on a family sojourn to a Florida amusement park favored by the youngest daughter. The whole thing skirts the edges of disturbing behavior with a sure and sensitive touch in terms of Cusack's performance; and director/screenwriter Strouse's tone holds hushed and controlled, never hysterical. You're never really sure if the obviously stand-up Phillips is hanging on through the grief or has lost it entirely, as he makes calls from pay phones along the way and leaves messages for his wife on their home answering machine, whose greeting is still her, and continues to delay before finally finding the way to tell the news to his daughters. It's a heartbreaker by definition and the relief is tremendous and palpable. By the closing scenes I suddenly started to notice how invested I had become in seeing the right things happen. A nicely done production, even if the topic now seems suddenly dated and a little tired out—it isn't really.

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