In many of his most famous roles, John Cusack is passionately verbal. Think of him talking his way past John Mahoney at Ione Skye's front door in Say Anything, or propelling High Fidelity with his character's highly articulate voiceover. We're not used to seeing a restrained Cusack on screen, and that's what helps make his understated turn in the indie Grace Is Gone such a surprise. Cusack plays Stanley, a shrinking father of two who can't quite find the words to tell his little girls that their mother has just died in Iraq. ''A while ago, I thought, 'I'm doing an Iraq project next, and I'm not doing anything else till I get one,''' says Cusack. ''I was going to write it if I had to, and just as I had committed to that, Grace came along. Sometimes the universe meets your intention.'' The actor has never been nominated for an Oscar, but if audiences turn out for this revelatory work, that could soon change.