Saturday, October 27, 2007

London Film Fest Day 11 - GRACE IS GONE

GRACE IS GONE is one of those quiet films that just steals up on you. It's a very simple story. Stanley is a decent guy. He has a wife, Grace and two young daughters, Heidi and Dawn, whom he loves dearly. He loves his country in a quiet way - not in the dumb, jingoistic manner often depicted in war films. Stanley cheated on his eye test so he could get into the army but was eventually discovered and kicked out. Which is partly why he feels so ashamed when his wife - an active soldier - is killed in Iraq. He can't bring himself to tell his daughters. In a desperate act of evasion he drives them to his mother's house, where they meet Stanley's brother, and then on to a theme park in Florida. The elder daughter, Heidi, is sensible and thoughtful and almost stumbles onto the truth. The younger daughter, Dawn, is wonderfully full of energy and fun, but she misses her mother and her home. Eventually Stanley breaks down and tells his daughters the truth.

The movie is affecting because the characters, situations and dialogue all ring true. In happier moments, the playful joshing between the two sisters is charming. In darker moments, Stanley's inability to deal with the situation also, tragically rings true. Credit goes to writer-director James C Strouse. I hated his earlier script for
LONESOME JIM. I didn't empathise with any of the characters or situations in that film. I was never sold on why I should spend time with them. But GRACE IS GONE is completely different - warm, moving, never manipulative, tragically believable. I also think the three lead characters do a sterling job. It's wonderful to see John Cusack getting a chance to move beyond his slick charmer role with a very modulated, still performance. But the real stand out is Shelan O'Keefe as the elder daughter. Admittedly the tech package is nothing special but that's not the point with this film. Instead, in a period where we are daily bludgeoned with portentious movies about the war in Iraq, it's refreshing to see someone take the time to look at the real, fundamental impact on ordinary people.

GRACE IS GONE played Sundance 2007 where it won the Audience Award and the Screenplay Award. It also played Toronto and London 2007. It opens in the US on December 7th, in Spain on February 1st 2008 and in France in April 2008.

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