That I spent a good portion of Grace is Gone virtually strangulated by the intense emotional buildup is a good thing. Indeed, I get the feeling that this is exactly what writer-director James C. Strouse intended, resulting in a film difficult to bear yet impossible to turn away from.

John Cusack is Stanley Phillips, the emotionally awkward father of two young girls, Heidi and Dawn, who have seen their military mother Grace deployed to Iraq. Upon receiving word that his wife has died in combat, his world is upended.

Faced with the daunting task of breaking the news to his children, Stanley is utterly unprepared to do so and inexplicably avoids the task altogether in favor of taking the girls on an impromptu road trip. The girls, no idiots, can sense that something is amiss.

As their journey unfolds, Stanley begins at last to forge a bond with the girls. Their joy in the surprise vacation is tainted throughout the movie by the audience’s uncomfortable knowledge that with a word, everything will inevitably change.

Completely different territory from the typical Cusack role, he nonetheless seems natural in his portrayal of the average man unable to express his grief.

Although Grace is Gone does touch lightly on the embroiled politics surrounding the Iraq occupation, played out through Stanley’s interactions with his brother, politics are in no way the focus of the film. Rather than question the motivations of the war or take sides, this film acts simply as an observance of a scene all too familiar across America as loved ones are lost and convictions are tried.

The viewer is left to draw her own conclusions. What Grace is Gone does exceptionally well is to put a human face to the statistics that presently haunt this nation.

Grade: A-

Gone Is Gone is currently in theaters.