Grace is Gone

Grace is Gone

Film review by: Witney Seibold


            It was unfortunate for me, going into James C. Strouse’s “Grace is Gone,” knowing that the film’s lead actor/producer, John Cusack, was a raging liberal. Cusack plays Stanley Philips, a hardcore conservative warhawk who learns that his wife, Grace, has been killed in Iraq. Rather than sit his two young daughters down and tell them that mom has been killed, he skips work, and takes them on an impromptu road trip to their favorite themepark states away.

            Stanley is an emotionally distant father, who has always been seen as the secondary parent by the thirteen-year old Heidi (Shélan O’Keefe) and the seven-or-so-year-old Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk). The girls are naturally suspicious when their usual taskmaster father begins treating them to their favorite meals, clothes, ear-piercings, and amusement parks. Stanley himself seems unsure as to how to react to his wife’s death, as he still leaves messages on their home phone for her. Grace’s death leaves such an emptiness in his life, that he can’t imagine a new routine, or how to become to new primary parent. The grieving process is alien to him. He keeps telling himself that she gave her life for her country, but in the face of the honest-to-goodness sorrow that he feels, that statement rings hollow.

            Eventually Stanley must find a way to not only break the news to his daughters, but learn to actually be a warm parental presence in their lives. The film does not have any huge catharses, and offers no simple solutions, but it does manage to keep us floating in Stanley’s purgatorial tragic haze for its 85 minutes. It’s good acting and effective filmmaking.

            But, knowing, as I do, that Cusack is a liberal, I couldn’t help but think that he made this film with a definite political agenda in mind. A lot is made of the fact that Stanley is a conservative who wholeheartedly supports the war in Iraq. Even Stanley’s brother (Alessandro Nivola) shows up at one point to argue politics with him. Cusack seems to be saying that those who support wars only do so in the abstract, and probably wouldn’t support wars if the reality of war’s damage entered their homes. That there is an inherent hypocrisy to the hawk mentality, which encourages war, so long as it doesn’t happen to them. I myself am a flaming liberal, but I’m always turned off by any piece of art that allows its preachiness to eclipse its own artistic skill.

            Perhaps I’m reading too much into this. Perhaps this was Cusack’s bid at being more fair. Perhaps he was saying that, liberal or conservative, the grief of sudden death can strike us off guard, and make us behave in unexpected and irrational ways.

            Either way, I was moved by “Grace is Gone,” and can recommend it to you for its emotional power and it’s excellent performances.

Published in: on October 7, 2008 at 7:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

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