Film / Amazing Grace and Chuck

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Amazing Grace and Chuck is a 1987 film about a boy who protests against nuclear weapons and the pro-athletes who join him by going on strike.

Chuck Murdock is a 12-year-old boy (and local star little league pitcher) from Montana (then real-life Little Leaguer Joshua Zuehlke) who goes on a field trip to a nuclear missile silo. While there, he becomes unnerved by the sight of the missile and the guide's description of the destructive power of the ICBM. After a nightmare about the missile launching, he stages a protest by walking out rather than pitching in his little league game, to the dismay of his teammates and his father, Russell (William L. Petersen), none of whom seem to understand why he's suddenly so upset about nuclear weapons.

This story is picked up as a human interest piece by several local papers and comes to the attention of fictional NBA player "Amazing Grace" Smith (played by real-life NBA player Alex English, who at the time played for the Denver Nuggets - Amazing plays for the Boston Celtics). The pro-athlete, fascinated by the boy's convictions and dedication, decides to go meet him. After listening to Chuck's explanation about "giving up what he does best" as a form of protest, Amazing decides to follow suit, publicly announcing that he is resigning from basketball (crediting Chuck as his inspiration) until there are no more nuclear weapons. He buys some land in Chuck's town and the two begin an unlikely friendship. They are soon joined in their strike by more and more pro-athletes, who make their movement's base of operations in a renovated barn on Amazing's land. Eventually the movement extends to athletes from other countries and even across the Iron Curtain.

But some of the forces that be are not happy about these developments which threaten the status quo, and thus their personal power and influence. A shady businessman named Jeffries, working behind the scenes, resolves to break the growing movement. Chuck and Amazing face enormous pressure from all sides (including economic and physical threats to themselves and there loved ones) as they struggle to spread their message for peace and take a stand for what they believe in.

The story reaches a climax with Amazing's plane being blown up by the conspiracy against them, at which point the movement takes on a somber tone. Starting with Chuck, children all around the world begin a protest of refusing to speak at all. In the end, the President of the USA and Premier of the USSR (both lamenting that their people are on the verge of mass unrest over their children's silent protest) meet to hammer out terms that will immediately begin dismantling their nuclear arsenals. The protests end successfully, the athletes return to work and the children begin speaking again, but young Chuck's childhood has ended far too early.

As over-the-top as the plot sounds, the story is well-told, well-acted, and taken very seriously.

Stars Jamie Lee Curtis as Lynn Taylor, Amazing Grace's manager and close friend, and Gregory Peck as the US President. Directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).

Not to be confused with Amazing Grace. Or with Chuck, for that matter.

Tropes:

  • The All-American Boy: Chuck is a prime example. This is part of what makes his initial protest an interesting enough story to garner some media attention even before Amazing Grace joins him.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Chuck gets this treatment from many of his (former) teammates and kids at school when he first goes on strike and as the movement grows. His family has to endure it too as the movement starts to grow and piss off the other people in town. His dad especially has a hard time as an Air Force Reservist.
  • Amazing Freaking Grace: One of the titular characters is nicknamed after the song. His friends just call him "Amazing."
    • The song itself however is never played or specifically mentioned in the movie.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: The President respectfully asks Chuck to end his protest because it hurts their negotiating position with the Soviets (arguing that this makes it harder to eliminate nuclear weapons). When Chuck refuses, the President admits that the First Amendment protects his the right to protest, but argues that it doesn't mean he can "run into a crowded theater and yell fire!". He has no response to what Chuck says next:
    Chuck: But, sir, what if there IS a fire?
  • As Himself: Boston Celtics then-president Red Auerbach, at the press conference when Amazing quits the team (which prompted one American film critic to wonder if Auerbach would be so relaxed about one of his star players quitting if it was during the NBA playoffs - when the movie was released!).
  • Berserk Button: Do not call Mad Dog (an NFL linebacker who joins the movement) a "pacifist". Several men who drive up onto the lawn of Chuck's house to harass his family and the athletes learn this when he lifts up the front of their monster truck and pushes the whole thing back into the street.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Amazing to Chuck.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The protest was successful prompting a disarmament agreement between the USA and the USSR. But Amazing Grace is dead and his killer, while exposed, will never face trial, Chuck's innocent childhood is over.
    • The final shot of the film acknowledges the story is unfortunately fiction (nuclear weapons are still in fact very real and the threat of nuclear war did not end in 1987) by simply asking the question "But wouldn't it be nice?"
  • Bookends: Chuck on the pitcher's mound is one of the first scenes and also the very last.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Well "Borrowed Hand-sign" at least, when Amazing's three-fingered sign (a reference to his skill at the three-point shot) becomes the symbol of solidarity with their cause following his death
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The primary antagonist of the story is a behind-the-scenes kind of villain named Jeffries. He's basically a stand-in for the more nebulous concept of the military-industrial complex: rich, powerful, ruthless, and not happy that some kid and a bunch of jocks are messing with the status quo that he and his "poker buddies" derive their wealth, power, and control from.
  • Deuteragonist: Amazing Grace and Chuck.
  • Exact Words: After making a short speech at the press conference following Amazing's death, Chuck responds to the question of whether the protest will continue by simply saying "I don't want to talk anymore". And then he doesn't, not to the reporters, not to anyone...
  • The Heart: Usually, it would be the kid in this role, reminding the adult leader what is important. But in this case its reversed: Chuck is the leader of the protest movements, Amazing is the Heart.
  • The Idealist: Both the titular characters. Chuck is younger and still learning what it means to hold to his principles, while Amazing is older and more experienced but still willing to make the sacrifices (personal and career) to stand for what he believes in.
    Russel: You know there's always gonna be nuclear weapons, dontcha?
    Amazing (smiles): But wouldn't it be nice if there weren't?
  • Ironic Echo: When Russell's superior in the reserves is giving the tour of the missile silo, he explains that the soldiers in the control room carry pistols because they have to be sure each man will obey if a launch is ordered, even if it means starting global thermonuclear war. As an example, he mentions that a good man like Chuck's dad might hesitate or refuse, "maybe he can't be trusted". Russell throws this line back in his face later when asked to silence his son, refusing by saying he's probably not the man for that mission ("maybe I can't be trusted")
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The jet Amazing is flying back on blows up, but its covered up as "crashing in the Rockies"
  • Oh, Crap!: Amazing calls Lynn from the plane to thank her for arranging the private jet. She tells him she didn't set it up and instantly has this reaction. He tries to reassure her that maybe its not what they think, but still leaves her with some Last Words before hanging up to go ask the pilots to land IMMEDIATELY.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Amazing Grace (Amazing to his friends) is not his real name. When somebody comments that its a little awkward calling him "Amazing", he just says his real name is worse
  • Parental Substitute: Inverted, with Chuck as a stand-in for Amazing's daughter, who died in a car crash five years earlier along with his wife. If she hadn't, she would be just about the same age as Chuck. Both Lynn and Russell allude to Amazing seeing Chuck this way (he admits as much to Russell when he brings it up, saying he's "jealous as hell" of Russell's family). Lynn even tells Chuck that part of why Amazing joined him in protest was that he thinks his daughter would have asked him to if she were alive.
    • Part of the friction that develops between Russell and Amazing as the movement picks up steam is because he fears that this swings both ways, with his son Chuck looking up to Amazing more than him. They clear the air during a tense conversation (which is when Amazing admits that he is jealous of Russell's family) and Russell reconnects with his son on a fishing trip a few days later. After that, the issue is dropped.
  • Platonic Life Partners: Amazing and Lynn. She's been his manager since college, and he was her very first client. Lynn talks at one point about how a lot of people assume they are a couple, and there's a hint of Unresolved Sexual Tension in their chemistry, but ultimately they simply care for and love each other as best friends.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Amazing Grace dies when the jet he's on blows up
  • Scenery Porn: The majestic vistas of Montana get a few lingering shots and make for a beautiful backdrop to many many scenes.
  • Shaped Like Itself: The explanation of what a linebacker is, given to Chuck's little sister as she stares at a truly enormous man, is simply to point to Mad Dog, "THAT is a linebacker"
  • To the Pain: Lynn initially wants to hire a guy to do this to Jeffries after Amazing is killed. She's talked out of it because its not what he would want.
  • Two-Keyed Lock: The explanation of why this is in place in the nuclear missile control room (and why the men stationed in such a secure area are armed) is part of what terrifies Chuck when he's touring the silo.
    • Referenced again later during the height of the children's silent protest, when the President's aide reports that anti-nuclear sentiment is reaching the point that they are unsure the soldiers in the control room would obey the order to launch if it were given (and that they might even draw their weapons on each other if it came down to it). At least the Russians are in the same boat according to their intelligence.
  • The Voiceless: Chuck (and the other children) during the film's third act.
  • Young and In Charge: As much as Chuck looks up to Amazing, the whole group really follows his lead on any major decisions. Its always up to Chuck when/if/whether the protests will go on or give up. By the end of the movie, Chuck is able to essentially veto a a seven-year disarmament treaty between the USSR and the USA because its not good enough. He forces the two world leaders to go back and agree to total disarmament immediately
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