As MPAA Chairman, the last thing I'd do during Oscar season is publicly declare the best picture vote on my Academy ballot. But in addition to the extraordinary films receiving accolades on Sunday night, I recently had the opportunity to see HBO's Taking Chance. And, it is that rare film that compels me to encourage everyone I know -- particularly policymakers -- to stop, look and listen.
The film stars Kevin Bacon as Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl, USMC, and tells the true story of his experience volunteering to escort the body of 19-year-old Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, a marine killed in action in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, from Dover Air Force Base to his family in Dubois, Wyoming.
The movie is neither pro-war nor anti-war. It is a wholly apolitical portrait of the value of one marine's life and the quiet patriotism of everyday Americans all along his journey home. The movie illuminates the military practice, little known to the civilian world, of providing a uniformed escort for every fallen member of the armed forces to their final resting place. From this unique vantage point, the film profoundly humanizes the reports we hear on the nightly news that tens of thousands of young men and women have been injured or killed in modern wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Kevin Bacon delivers a superb performance, but stealing scene after scene are the gardeners, baggage handlers, flight attendants, truck drivers and other regular folks who encounter the escort, grasp the nature of his precious cargo and find their own way to echo his duty of bringing this young man home with 'dignity, respect and honor.'
It's a powerful story, one that originated as Strobl's official trip report, evolved into an Internet phenomenon and became this powerful film. It leaves you feeling not hopeless, but extraordinarily proud of the exceptional care and genuine outpouring of gratitude displayed throughout this solemn homecoming.
For policymakers, Taking Chance is a stark reminder that the almost certain consequence of war is the premature ending of the lives of brave and talented young men and women, and that the decision to send them into battle should never be done without the President and Members of Congress acknowledging the profound human consequences of their decisions to authorize military conflict.
For the rest of us whose lives go on far from the front lines, the film brings home the reality that war is never abstract. People die -- terribly and too soon -- and each of us has a duty to find our own way to pay our respects to our men and women in uniform, their families and the extraordinary sacrifices they continue to make for a grateful nation. I am proud to have seen this film and to bear witness alongside policymakers, senior Pentagon officials and military families. I hope you take the time to do the same.
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