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The journey home HBO film follows the military detail assigned to accompany fallen soldiers to their final resting place

In his first evening news conference since becoming commander in chief, President Obama was asked if he would reconsider the policy banning media coverage of the flag-draped coffins of military personnel being brought into Dover Air Force Base from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The president didn't have an answer but said the policy was being reviewed.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, HBO will present a glimpse into a similar process when it airs "Taking Chance," based on the real journal of a U.S. Marine officer. "Taking Chance" painstakingly details what happens when a soldier escorts members of the military from the Dover Port Mortuary at the base to loved ones in their hometowns.

Kevin Bacon stars as Lt. Col. Michael R. Strobl, a Marine officer, research analyst and Desert Storm veteran who volunteers to bring home the remains of 19-year-old Lance Corporal Chance Phelps to his parents in a small Wyoming town in 2004.

Along the way, Strobl meets a variety of ordinary citizens and former military personnel who are instantly and spontaneously moved by the mission.

There's no dialogue during the first five minutes of the film; the pictures tell the story. That signals how understated this film is going to be.

The small acts of kindness and spontaneous displays of respect given the fallen hero and Strobl provide numerous lump-in-your throat moments in the trip across the country by plane and car.

Done with the cooperation of the Defense Department and with the support of Phelps' parents, "Taking Chance" is an apolitical film that documents the appreciation that Americans have of the sacrifices being made by military personnel.

In a way, both sides of the issue facing President Obama are on display.

On the one hand, there are those who believe military personnel who give their lives for their country shouldn't be hidden from view. They may be unaware that each eventually receives the dignity and respect given to Lance Corporal Chance, who was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device.

On the other hand, there are those who believe if the military puts all the bodies on display, it could become either a powerful anti-war statement or desensitize Americans to the tragedies.

Directed by Oscar-nominated producer Ross Katz ("Lost in Translation"), Bacon does an exceptional job playing a stoic so-called "uniformed escort" who told his wife, Stacey (Paige Turco), that he took the emotional, difficult job because Lance Corporal Chance was from his hometown in Colorado. It turns out that Chance just enlisted in his hometown and was from Wyoming.

"What is this all about, Mike?" she asks.

"It's not about anything," answers Mike. "He's from [my hometown], that's all."

Of course, you know that it's about much more than that. It's also about Strobl's difficulties dealing with his own place in the war.

In a way, Strobl could be viewed as a stand-in for those Americans who feel a little guilty about being safe and want to find some way to show their appreciation to the military personnel who are fighting the war.

The film also may speak to those who don't want to think too often or too long about the costs of war and may be perfectly fine with keeping the body bags out of sight.

"Taking Chance" is a haunting, beautifully told film that reminds the nation of sacrifices that we often take for granted -- if we think about them at all.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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>TV Review

"Taking Chance"
Review: Four stars (out of four)
Premieres at 8 p.m. Saturday on HBO

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