85 Min. | Drama | December 2007
IMDB Rating: 6.8
Director: James C. Strouse
Staring: John Cusack, Emily Churchill, Rebecca Spence
Grace Is Gone Review: Anytime a word like “grace” appears in a movie’s title, it’s time to set your pun-detector on high alert. In the case of “Grace is Gone,” the word refers, on a literal level, to a woman named Grace who is killed while fighting in Iraq, and, on a figurative level, to the loss of innocence and hope suffered by the husband (John Cusack) and two young daughters she leaves behind. When Stanley Phillips (John Cusack) receives the devastating news, he decides not to tell the girls (Shelan O’Keefe, Gracie Bednarkczyk) right away, choosing instead to take them on a road trip from their home in Minnesota to a favorite amusement park in Florida, as a means of delaying the inevitable for himself as well as giving them one last happy memory before delivering the life-shattering blow. On the way, they meet various people – including Stanley’s liberal, antiwar brother (well-played by Alessandro Nivola) – but basically it’s a story of this one family’s heartbreaking odyssey into gut-wrenching knowledge, an odyssey too many families are forced to take in a time of war.
James C. Strouse’s “Grace is Gone” is a very short (82 minutes), very low-keyed look at how certain individuals cope with tragedy. Many, like Stanley, refuse even to accept the reality of their loss and hope to postpone the day of reckoning as long as possible. However, Stanley, who’s ex-military himself, also has to confront the tremendous guilt he feels for having supported not only Grace’s choice to serve in Iraq but the Republican policies that led to the war in the first place. Stanley is faced with having to do something no father should ever have to do, and for the time being, he is being forced to hide the truth from not only an exuberant 8-year-old (Dawn) but a far more perceptive 12-year-old (Heidi), who is caught in that unique moment between the naivete of childhood and the knowingness that comes with growing up. She can sense that something’s “up,” based on her father’s slightly off-kilter behavior, but she can’t quite put her finger on what it is.
Indeed, the conversations between Stanley and Heidi – wherein they wind up communicating far more than just what they say with their words – are the best things in Grace Is Gone. And there simply aren’t adjectives adequate to describe the miraculous performances of Cusack, O’Keefe and Bednarkczyk in the principal roles. This is an “actors’ picture” if ever there was one, and these three extraordinary individuals prove themselves more than equal to the enormously challenging task they’ve been called upon to do. With its spare settings, self-effacing direction and heartfelt emotions, this is a beautifully understated and moving work that drives home with shattering force the simple truth – one we are all too prone to forget – that not all of war’s casualties occur on the battlefield. Overall, Grace Is Gone is a worth watch.