Somebody -- not Thomas Jefferson, apparently -- once said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
On that score, "Last Ounce of Courage" is a good reminder that freedom needs constant tending, and that we owe an unending debt to those who fight and die in its name.
Unfortunately, the movie, getting a wide release this week, also is a good reminder that storytelling cliches and inattention to narrative detail can detract from a movie's message.
"Last Ounce of Courage" follows Bob (Marshall Teague), a Vietnam War hero whose son followed his example and enlisted, only to die in battle, leaving behind a loving wife, a new baby and a father who can't come to grips with his loss.
Fourteen years later, his estranged daughter-in-law and grandson (Nikki Novak, Hunter Gomez) come back home at Thanksgiving to live with Bob and his wife, Dottie (Jennifer O'Neill). The teenager soon gets in trouble for bringing something to school -- a Bible.
After his grandson gets off with a warning, Bob, now his town's part-time mayor, learns that it's not illegal to bring the Good Book to school, just frowned on in the name of political correctness. "We can't take any chances that someone will sue us," the principal tells him.
When Bob's grandson calls him on his complacency -- "What did my dad die for, Bob?" -- he decides to stand up for the freedoms father and son fought for by bringing back the town's tradition of putting up Christmas decorations. "Our freedoms are being taken away from us, one by one," he tells the town's timid council, and "we're taking them back, one at a time."
As Bob is persecuted by his critics, including the blustery head of an American Civil Liberties Union-type outfit (played with cigar-chewing chagrin by Fred Williamson), the town's teenagers, stoked by Bob's example, show the way.
The makers of "Last Ounce of Courage" are sincere in their message, and -- especially when they show the price of freedom paid by members of the military and their families -- they hit some affecting notes.
But there's an awful lot of clumsy, heavy-handed stuff in the way (best example: the school's "winter play" is the Nativity story told with space aliens instead of angels). Story lines start and fizzle all over the place, getting in the way of otherwise powerful moments.
And who exactly is that longhaired, gray-headed stranger hanging around town anyway? An angel? A ghost? Willie Nelson?
No matter where you stand on the subject, having that many distractions in the way doesn't make the point clearer.
Last Ounce of Courage **