For most of its 85 minutes "Grace Is Gone," a small, tender film about contemporary parenthood in wartime, carries off a delicate balancing act. How do you portray the tragic effects of the Iraq war on the home front without sounding shrilly partisan or evasively neutral? How do you avoid jingoism, cynicism or mawkishness? The film, written and directed by James C. Strouse, evokes the daily lives of a father and his two children in perfect, unassuming performances and with a close attention to detail that makes you feel like a fifth member of the family. The household consists of Stanley Phillips (John Cusack), the blocky, good-hearted manager of a home-supply store, and his daughters, the 12-year-old Heidi (Shelan O'Keefe) and the 8-year-old Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk). Their mother, Grace (Dana Lynne Gilhooley), whose presence haunts the movie, is a soldier in Iraq. Except for snapshots and a brief flashback, she is only a chipper voice heard on a telephone answering machine. Mr. Cusack demonstrates once again that he is Hollywood's second-most-reliable nice guy, after Tom Hanks. Devoid of vanity, with no hidden agendas, he never strains to be likable. Good will, integrity and a native common sense ooze out of him.
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