It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
John Cusack can project such tenderness and kindness. He doesn't often play roles that give him the chance, but when he does ("Say Anything," "High Fidelity," "Being John Malkovich"), he knows how to do it. His character Stanley Phillips in "Grace Is Gone" is one of his most vulnerable and is the key to the movie's success.
He is a suburban dad with two young daughters and a wife in the military. He supports the war in Iraq and would be there himself if he didn't have bad eyes. One day, two Army officers come to his door and he won't invite them in, as if he's reluctant to accept the news they've come to tell him: His wife has been killed in the war.
Their girls are Heidi (Shelan O'Keefe), 12 years old, and Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk), who is 8. He sits them down in the living room to break the news and finds that he simply cannot. Instead, in a crazy evasion, he improvises on the spur of the moment and announces they will get in the car and drive to Enchanted Gardens, a Florida theme park they like. Heidi, who is very smart, thinks this sounds fishy: He's pulling them out of school to go on an unannounced holiday? Dawn doesn't ask any questions.
The trip involves the usual cookie-cutter roadside chain eateries and the usual interstate highway sameness, although it is punctuated by a stop to visit Stanley's brother John (Alessandro Nivola), a layabout who rouses himself at the sight of Stanley to start attacking the war. Stanley won't be baited. He shares his secret, begs it be kept a secret and loads the girls back in the car.