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Case Number 13744

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Grace Is Gone

Genius Products // 2007 // 84 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // June 2nd, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Franck Tabouring thinks John Cusack gives one of his best performances yet in this wonderful film.

The Charge

He must face the inevitable task of changing their lives forever.

Opening Statement

It's a real shame Grace is Gone only made it into a few theaters last year, because I'm convinced the film would have been a big crowd pleaser. Winner of the critics award at the Deauville Film Festival and the audience award at Sundance, James C. Strouse's poignant drama takes an incredibly honest look at a family struggling with the hard side of life after the loss of a loved one.

Facts of the Case

The film centers on Stanley Philipps (John Cusack), a devoted father who faces life's biggest challenge when his wife Grace, a solider, dies in Iraq. Although Stanley knows it's his responsibility to break the news to his two daughters Heidi (Shelan O'Keefe) and Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk), he suddenly finds himself unable to do so. Instead, he decides to take his kids on an unforgettable road trip.

The Evidence

Essentially, Grace is Gone is a sincere movie about the human cost of war, the victims, and those who have to let them go, but at the same time, it's also a powerful story about parenting. One the one hand, we understand why Stanley doesn't find the courage to tell his daughters what happened, but on second thought, we also know what he's doing is wrong. Strouse's compelling script and his particular attention to his characters end up making his viewers understand both sides of the argument. On a more different note, the film is also about growing up. Heidi's character plays an especially huge role in the film, because she immediately senses there's something wrong. She's barely 12 years old and doesn't openly express her feelings and thoughts, which makes it interesting for viewers to guess how much she really knows or what she really suspects.

Grace is Gone is a very honest little film. The storyline is never too saccharine or implausible, and while select moments may seem a little over the top, the film stays true to its themes and takes audiences on an emotionally laden ride they'll never forget. Strouse proves he's a talented screenwriter who creates down-to-earth characters dealing with the fact that their closest loved one is absent most of the time. The film also refrains from making big statements about the Iraq war, although some of the kids' comments and a minor confrontation between Stanley and his brother may be interpreted as a quick anti-war message. All in all, however, the film pays tribute to the fallen soldiers and their loved ones waiting nervously at home.

Clocking in at only 84 minutes, the movie is quite short. Strouse keeps his plot operating at a relatively fast pace, and his script provides the characters with enough depth. The road trip itself is a little more uplifting than the touching beginning of the film, although the strong emotions certainly dominate throughout. Like many husbands and wives around the world, Stanley is completely lost after finding out about Grace's death. Even though he's trying to have a good time with his kids on the trip, he can't ignore the facts, and it's a truth hard to admit. Watching Stanley slowly finding the necessary courage to tell his kids about his wife's death is a poignant and heartwarming experience for the viewer. In the end, this is a sad but intriguing film that can make you cry just as much as it can make you smile.

John Cusack is passionate as Stanley, delivering one of his best performances yet. His recent films 1408 and Martian Child didn't really give him the chance to showcase his talent, but this is just the right flick for him. He treats his character with ultimate care, subtlety, and great emotions, which can easily be seen in the way he looks, talks and walks around. Co-starring are newcomers Shelan O'Keefe and Gracie Bednarczyk, who both do a fabulous job at playing Stanley's children. O'Keefe especially is a natural talent, portraying her inquisitive character with great detail.

From a technical point of view, this disc comes with a top-notch audio and a clean video transfer, boasting a sharp and clear image throughout. A lot of the action in the film takes place outdoors, and you'll be able to fully enjoy Jean-Louis Bompoint's interesting cinematography because of the film's great picture quality.

As far as bonus material goes, the DVD features a 7-minute conversation with director James C. Strouse and cast members John Cusack, Shelan O'Keefe, and Gracie Bednarczyk. Strouse briefly talks about the main storyline of his film before moving on to discuss his characters, and how they change over the course of the film. Cusack also gives additional insight into his character, and he further explains how well he worked with co-actresses O'Keefe and Bednarczyk. It's a short piece that also includes some footage from the set, but it's pretty concise.

The special features also include a 6-minute report from the Pentagon Channel's This Week in the Pentagon, which focuses on the true story of Warren Pellegrin, who lost his lieutenant wife after she contracted a deadly virus on a mission. The report centers specifically on how Pellegrin broke the news to his kids. In a passionate interview, Pellegrin even tells viewers John Cusack personally called him to ask him some questions about his life as a widower. Other than that, the disc features a short profile of the Tragedy Assistance Program, an organization which helps military husbands and wives in times of shock and grief.

Closing Statement

Before I wrap this up for good, let me briefly point out that the legendary Clint Eastwood composed the beautiful score for the film (he even pulled a Golden Globe nomination for his work). Strouse's directorial debut is a strong movie. He's still young and has a great career ahead of him if he keeps writing (he also penned Lonesome Jim) and directing passionate films. No matter what your position on Iraq, make sure to check this one out, because it deals with a sad fact we will all be confronted with some day: the sudden loss of a loved one.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 91
Audio: 92
Extras: 80
Acting: 94
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: Genius Products
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Drama
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• A Conversation on Grace
• Inspiration for Grace is Gone
• Profile of TAPS
• Theatrical Trailer


• IMDb
• Official Site

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