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Grace is Gone (2007)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Is the film worth your time?

It is superficial to say that it’s heart-wrenching to lose a loved one in war — that is, unless you can say it the way that Grace is Gone says it. In the film, we live through a father’s shock at the death of Grace, his wife and the mother of his two preteen daughters. Why, you may well ask, would we want to live through this shock? To see the beauty of his love for this woman and, though not apparent at first, for his daughters — and to be more ready for the losses we will inevitably face. Grace is Gone, in its plot structure, its character developments, its conflicts, its direction, and its editing, brings to visibility parts of grief, love, and recovery that are usually hidden and invisible. It creates juxtapositions that open questions about absence (both before and after loss), the effect on others of how we deal with pain, the fragility of life, and the rigor (or not) that we apply to our thinking about war and whether it is to be chosen given its costs.

Among the things that lend depth to Grace is Gone, the father’s character is complex and inconsistent. His unsettled moodiness leads him to respond to Grace’s death in an unusual, though plausible, way, tossing us as viewers into a closer questioning of who this man is and why. John Cusack’s performance captures very well the the father’s focused indirection as he searches for a path forward, catching his two girls in a bit of a whirlwind. The film is very much worth seeing. It’s not a Friday-night-fun-escape film, but the territory it covers is a beautiful exploration of loss, pain, self vs. others, moving forward, and gratitude for having had the gift of a person’s presence in our lives.

A word is in order about negative remarks in the reviews of Grace is Gone. I grant that some of the remarks have merit — mostly those about shortcomings in the film’s production quality. However, other remarks belie a reviewer’s desire to sit back and let the film do all the work rather than actively engaging with the film’s presentation of, for example, Stanley’s character. Some reviewers judge Stanley for not doing the hard thing and for the way that this lengthens the middle of the story. I believe that, if we engage with compassion — asking “Who is this man? What is it about him that this loss leaves him particularly paralyzed?” — we can begin to understand him, relate to him, and be stretched to deeper compassion with the real people around us. Besides this, some reviewers manage to denigrate important sign posts that inform the film’s exploration. Watch Grace is Gone, but do be sure to do so when you’re ready to actively engage with it.

Stanley Phillips manages a home improvement store. His wife, Grace, is a soldier deployed in Iraq. Although to their daughters, Heidi and Dawn, he expresses pride in the honor of Grace’s service, it seems her absence has him heavily strained both at work and at home. Grace’s absence and the risks of war seem to wear on him, affecting his patience with the girls. Then, one morning after the girls are off to school, a dutiful military officer and chaplain pay Stanley the government’s visit of regret. Understandably stunned, he barely moves from his chair until time forces him to think about how he will tell Heidi and Dawn. He starts to tell them but he can’t, and so starts an odyssey of struggle for recovery. Running time: 85 min.

The questions asked by Grace is Gone center on tough emotional issues, from which the film does not shy away. Along the way, there’s a bit of teen smoking, military wives who share stories of sex talk on phone calls with their deployed husbands, and a bit of strong language.

  • Director: James C. Strouse
  • Screenplay: James C. Strouse
  • Leads: John Cusack, Shélan O’Keefe, Gracie Bednarczyk, Alessandro Nivola
  • Cinematography: Jean-Louis Bompoint
  • Music: Clint Eastwood

Reviews of Grace is Gone seem to be particularly fraught with spoilers.


NOTE: Although Before viewing talks don't have spoilers, comments below MAY have spoilers
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