Grace Is Gone (2007): Weepie Melodrama about Imact of Iraq War Starring John Cusack

Sundance Film Fest 2007 (World Premiere Dramatic Competition)–One of the first films to reflect directly the impact of the Iraq War on the home front, “Grace Is Gone” is not a particularly good film but it benefits from its timely subject and the gender reversal of its central role.

If memory serves, so far there has been one major picture about the effects of the Iraq War: Irwin Winkler’s “Home of the Brave,” an inept tale that centers on four war vets. That picture, was both an artistic and commercial failure.

In most American movies, it’s the men who go to war, while the women stay at home and take care of the children and family. In this film, however, the hero, Stanley Phillips (John Cusack), is a patriotic father of two, who faces an awful dilemma when he learns that his wife, Grace, has been killed while serving in the Iraq War. How will he tell his young daughters that their mother is gone Stanley decides to buys a little time by taking the girls on an impromptu road trip to a theme park in Florida.

Along the way, Stanley has a brief, contentious visit with his liberal brother (a colorful Alessandro Nivola), and continues to struggle with his own griefand dilemma. Meanwhile, he seeks solace by calling in to his home answering machine, which strangely enough still bears the voice of his wife.

As written and directed, “Grace Is Gone” is too middlebrow, literal (note the title), and explicit to qualify as a truly good picture, and it also suffers from the mostly one-dimensional characterization.

Several film critics (whom the late great Hitchcock would describe as “the plausibles”) faulted the narrative on realistic grounds, claiming that any responsible father would buckle up his kids, particularly a grieving one who has already suffered a major loss. Yet here, father and daughters go in and out of the car, disregarding completely issues of safety and security belts.

Well-intentioned, and wearing its heart on it sleeves, which may explain why it won the Sundance Festival Audience Award (which usually goes to a comedy), “Grace is Gone” is intermittently touching.

The always-reliable John Cusack (“Say Anything,” “High Fidelity”) renders a solid, if not great, performance. His work may suffer from the narrow writing, which is not particularly sharp, but he brings gravitas to a role that many men (and women) will be able to connect to on a deep emotional level.

The whole film may be too restrained for its own good, and James Strouse who previously penned the Sundance competition entry, “Lonesome Jim,” helmed by Steve Buscemi, shows that he has a long way to goand many more skills to masteras a director; “Grace Is Gone” is his feature debut.

Cast

Stanley Phillips – John Cusack
Heidi Phillips – Shelan O’Keefe
Dawn Phillips – Grace Bednarczyk
John Phillips – Alessandro Nivola

Credits

A Weinstein Co. release of a Plum Pictures and New Crime Prods. presentation in association with Hart/Lunsford Pictures.
Produced by John Cusack, Grace Loh, Galt Niederhoffer, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Celine Rattray.
Executive producers, Paul Bernstein, Reagan Silber, Jai Stefan, Todd Traina.
Co-producers, Roberta Burrows, Marilyn Haft, Demetra Diamantopoulos, Jessica Levin, Riva Marker.
Directed, written by James C. Strouse.
Camera: Jean-Louis Bompoint.
Editor: Joe Klotz.
Music: Max Richter.
Production designer: Susan Block.
Art director: Lissette Schettini.
Set decorator: Tanja Deshida.
Costume designer: Ha Nguyen.
Sound: David Obermeyer.

Running time: 93 Minutes.