June 5, 2008
Review - " Grace is Gone " (on DVD) - By Roland Hansen
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Grace is Gone
Written & Directed by James C. Strouse
Starring: John Cusack, Shelan O’Keefe, Grace Bednarczyk,
Although 2007 saw a flood of Iraq-related films, "Grace is
Gone" takes a different approach from many of the others.
Unlike "Rendition" and "Lions for Lambs" , this movie doesn't
focus on the conflict itself. Instead, the drama looks at how the
death of a female soldier affects her family at home. John
Cusack is Stanley Phillips, manager of a Home Depot type
store, a husband and father who waits while his wife Grace is
off serving in Iraq. When Stanley is informed that his wife has
been killed he can't bear to tell his two daughters the news. To
postpone the inevitable, the normally staid father proposes a
spontaneous road trip to his girls, and the three set off for the
fun of an amusement park called Enchanted Gardens.
"Grace is Gone" is a deeply affecting drama that never resorts to manipulation in achieving its aims. Instead, it relies on the
strong script from Strouse, as well as a trio of fantastic performances. As Stanley and Grace's young daughters, Gracie
Bednarczyk and Shélan O'Keefe make memorable film debuts. Their relationships with both each other and their father feel
completely genuine. John Cusack was excellent. Grace Is Gone features possibly Cusack’s finest performance to date. The
role is a complete departure for the veteran actor. The film's tone is sweet and sad and is helped by moving score from
Clint Eastwood. The two girls were superb. Chemistry between the leads was believable, though the brother comes across
as an aging hippie stereotype.
In his younger days, Stanley tried to serve his country, but poor eyesight dashed that dream, and now he's a superstore
manager. The sort of middle-American conservative rarely seen at the art house, Stanley believes in his president. That
doesn't alleviate his pain. Stanley's stoic American heartland nature extends to his politics, a refreshing choice by Strouse,
who could easily have used the film more bluntly either as a tool to hammer an anti-war message, or simply ignored it
altogether. But while the film refuses to judge Stanley for his relentlessly pro-war beliefs, it nevertheless brings the issue to
a head in a few sharp exchanges between Stanley and his slacker brother John.
The loss of a loved one is an isolating experience. Stanley's problem is that the news of Grace's death, delivered solemnly
on a beautiful day by a pair of soldiers who seem carved from granite, leaves him not only without a wife, but also as the
sole provider and caregiver for a pair of daughters: 12-year-old Heidi and 8-year-old Dawn. Faced with the horrible news
and unsure of when and how to break it to the girls, Stanley prefers to bury his head in the sand and escape from reality.
Stanley is the embodiment of dull routine, making it all the more exciting for the girls when he tells them that they're taking
off and heading for Enchanted Gardens, a Disneyworld-type theme park where Dawn has always wanted to go. Maybe that
will be the right place to tell them, he figures. It's a horrendously bad plan, but given the massive tragedy which Stanley is
suddenly tasked with, it's not shocking at all that he would disappear into a fantasy of sorts, where maybe Grace hasn't
died. So off they drive in the SUV with the yellow ribbon magnet on the back, girls curious but thrilled at the sudden
adventure, father gripping the wheel tightly while anguish eats him alive from the inside.
The "Hollywood" aspects to this movie are plentiful: if Cusack simply told the girls their mother had died, that would have
ended the movie or sent it in an entirely different direction. Since he does not tell them, we go on a voyage of discovery,
which allows the scenery and certain Hollywood "moments" to take up the time. There are some hard-to-believe scenes, as
when the older daughter calls her school for a homework assignment and interprets the secretary's sympathies as "being
There is no humor, no laughs… its a very serious movie from
start to finish. Grace is Gone delivers a powerful reality of war,
death and the trickle effect it has on families.
Grace is Gone is a winner and never got the recognition it
deserved outside the film festivals.