"Grace is Gone" DVD Review
May 26, 2008 by Zach Demeter
Two Golden Globe Nominations and heaps of critical praise for Cusack’s performance couldn’t push Grace is Gone into more theaters and the film by first time director James C. Strouse with music composed by Clint Eastwood (yes, that Eastwood) and Grace is Gone commenced its seven theater run in the United States within a scant nine weeks. With a powerful performance by Cusack driving the film, it’s a wonder it didn’t get more exposure but that seems to be an issue with a lot of films recently…only in the case of Grace is Gone, the film really was good enough to have received a wide release.
After his wife is deployed overseas, Stanley Philips (John Cusack) is left alone with two young daughters to raise on his own. While they persevered on through without their mother, times became even worse for Stanley when he was informed early one morning that his wife had died in battle. Shaken to the core, Stanley’s mind begins to swim about his now late wife and how he’ll break the news to his young girls. Instead of telling the girls, the three of them go on an impromptu road trip where Stanley is able to reconnect with his daughters.
The film itself seems to have suffered from some massive lack of promotion, as I hadn’t even heard of the film until I saw the DVD announcement. It’s a shame, as I really enjoyed the film and the touting of Cusack’s performance isn’t overblown in the least…he really pitches a strong performance throughout the entire movie and the end result is a series of strikeout scenes that really help elevate the movie to a level way beyond the near direct-to-DVD status that it’s currently sitting at.
As far as the story goes in the film it strikes an even balance between Stanley coping with the death of his wife while simultaneously showing the relationship with his daughters. It’s interesting to see the older daughter consistently pick apart and deduce that something serious is wrong and while we never find out if she truly deduces the result or whether she just tries to trick herself into believing something else, the reaction from the two daughters at the end of the film is nothing short of heart wrenching. But I am getting ahead of myself—though the film is short, I feel that it packed a lot of content into its hour and a half run time and the stellar performances from all of the cast is only one part of it.
An element of the film a few may find a bit too preachy is the discussions on the Iraq war that take place. While Stanely’s view (and purportedly the view of his daughters) is that his wife is serving their country, the girls Uncle John takes on the “protesting slob” role (I only call him that because he’s an unshaven and jobless man who is in his 30s and lives with his parents—you see where I’m going with this) and comments on the absurdity of the war and how we shouldn’t be over there. Regardless of how you feel about the war, the film shows off both views, so those thinking this is simply going to be a pro-war film will be happy to know both sides get their say.
Of course having said that I do have to say that I felt the Uncle John detour in the film was a bit unneeded. We don’t hear from him again after that scene and it just ultimately seems a bit useless to have. Granted if you lopped that section of the film out it’d barely be over an hour, but it almost felt like a harsh thing to throw in a movie about a fallen Iraq veteran—regardless of whether the war was “right” or not.
The aforementioned score composed by Clint Eastwood was also one of the highlights of the film. I’m not saying that because of who composed it; I didn’t even see his name in the credits before watching the film but the music was definitely felt throughout the production. It’s a very moving score and the end sequence where Stanley tells the girls about their mother is made all the better by the inclusion of Eastwood’s score.
Overall Grace is Gone is a truly moving film that will have you whipping tears away from your eyes. It’s definitely pushing it’s PG-13 rating with a few bursts of strong language (two f-words in this one—something I haven’t seen in a PG-13 film since Gattaca…which I think had way more than two, but still) and also the thematic elements of it as well, so I wouldn’t recommend this one for viewing with the young ones. Still, Grace is Gone is a really strong adult drama that is headed up by a terrific performance by Cusack as well as stand-out roles from the supporting cast as well. The cast and story is small, but the impact it leaves on you is huge. Recommended.
Grace is Gone arrives on DVD courtesy of the Weinstein Company but for all of the hoopla about the film online and review quotes spread across the packaging, there sure isn’t much in terms of extras to check out here. Still between the intriguing cover art and well laid out menus, there is enough here to give off the appearance of a great dramatic film—it’s just too bad there isn’t any real content to back that up with.
The film itself is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that holds an enormous amount of detail in the films picture. A lot of the film is in the daytime and the various countryside scenes we see look stunning. Once we get to the Enchanted Gardens point in the film the transfer begins to spew out a mess of colors that all look wonderful. It’s surprising that I was this thrilled by a DVD transfer after watching so many Blu-ray’s, but it proves that a 480p transfer can still be impressive. The films 5.1 Dolby mix isn’t quite as flooring as the video transfer if only for one reason: it’s a drama and dramas don’t use surrounds that much. There is a few rear channel separation’s during the driving sequences and the Enchanted Gardens sequences, but nothing that’ll really have you take notice as the majority of this transfer is all front channel focused.
Moving onto the extras we first have “A Conversation on Grace” (7:04), a brief extra about the making of the film, featuring cast and crew interviews. “The Inspiration for Grace is Gone” (6:41) shows the films inspiration and features interviews with the family that the film was semi-based off of. Finally “Profile of TAPS” (3:26) is a brief PSA like extra that details the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
And…that is it, unfortunately. No commentary from first time director Strouse, who also wrote the film. His commentary would have been an interesting one I’m sure as his comments on the “A Conversation on Grace” extra were quite insightful and showed he had a lot to say about the film. It’s a shame we won’t hear from him for the entire run of the film, as I doubt we’ll be seeing another edition of this film anytime soon.
Despite it being a strong film, I really don’t know if it has much staying power past a first viewing, so you may want to give this DVD a Rental before deciding to add it to your collection. Cusack’s performance is one to see, that’s for sure, so if anything check it out for that lone.
Grace is Gone arrives on DVD on May 27th.