This film evoked the most touching and emotional experiences this reviewer has had in recent memory. It is a sad thought that this picture never received a theatrical release, but fortunately HBO Films picked it up for a release on television. Based on a true story and adapted to the screen by the actual man who was there, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl is a Marine who volunteered for escort duty to accompany the body of Pfc. (Private, First Class) Chance Phelps.
Strobl is played by Kevin Bacon in what may be one of his greatest performances next to Apollo 13 and Mystic River. Bacon plays Strobl as a very reserved person. He seems to keep to himself, and yet we get a sense that he is constantly looking for something. Out of some sort of unknown, but deeply personal frustration, he decides to accompany Phelps’ casket across an entire country. Like any funeral, it is a time for reflection and sorrow, so it is very commendable that this film’s attitudes toward war and politics remain absolutely neutral. Strobl never met Phelps before his passing, but this does not seem to matter to him. What does matter is his duty to his country by returning the 19 year old Marine back to his family. Director Ross Katz, usually a producer (In the Bedroom, Lost in Translation) makes an outstanding directorial debut by giving his picture an extraordinary sense of honor and respect. The simplicity of the story is what keeps us drawn in. The filmmaking is very concise and retains honesty and a strong sense of dignity. The audience has complete focus on all the people that Strobl meets along his journey, all the passerby citizens who pay their respects to him and Phelps, and all the fascinatingly delicate procedures that lead up to a Military funeral.
It is very pleasing that a film like this was made. Due to the fact that no matter what the war is or how a person has come to pass away—loved ones as well as complete strangers, in Strobl’s case, are willing to put the time and effort to say a proper goodbye and give a well deserved thank you. The Lt. Col.’s accounts were put into a journal, and it was simply remarkable and praiseworthy that someone had the courage to get a film like this made.