One week after seeing STOP-LOSS the film is nearly impossible to remember. Another in a long line of films (THE SITUATION, RENDITION, THE KINGDOM, REDACTED, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, etc.) to delve into that part of the world, STOP-LOSS, sadly, is completely forgettable. On the other hand, for our men in Iraq STOP-LOSS tells an all too familiar story, a story of their lives serving in an army that doesn’t seem care about them, their health, or their safety.
Depending on how the Iraq war front has affected you will most likely influence your feelings about this film. For some it might hit too close to home, for others STOP-LOSS will only firm up your opinion on a war that should never have begun. But from any point of view, Stop-Lossing a soldier means that soldier is being drafted right back into the war he or she has just left. And that unfairness just might hit everyone the same.
STOP-LOSS is what they do to you when your service time is up. Because the US does not have a draft, and because we began a war that did not have to be fought, the US armed services are desperate for more men and women. They’ve lowered the standards to serve, now accepting men with drug and alcohol problems and minor arrests, lowered IQ test scores, and people who have not finished High School, but they still need more soldiers, such a violent war will always need more soldiers. To get the men they need to fight a war we didn’t need to fight, the army stop-losses them. Stop-loss is a back door draft that forces men who have finished their tour of duty back into the field.
Following his tour of duty where he served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, decorated war hero and all-round leader of men, good ole’ Texas boy Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) returns home with his local and wartime buddies to a hero’s return, parade, waving flags and all. King has come to the end of his enlistment and can’t wait to get out of the army; he has no interest in re-enlisting even though he is pressured to do so by his superiors.
For a few days life is good, even though the guys can’t get their last attack out of their heads; in Tikrit several members of his platoon are killed in an awful ambush and firefight that takes them into small civilian apartments where they kill men who hold children up in front of them thinking they stop the Americans from shooting. They don’t stop.Â Flashbacks of the ambush scenes and clearing an apartment building full of so-called civilians plague their dreams and fill their waking hours. But when King and his best friend, Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) are stop-lossed on their last day in the military, life changes for everyone.
With a title like STOP-LOSS one might think this film is about that legal loophole, but you’d be wrong. What the film is really about is the soldier’s post-traumatic stress from their harrowing days serving in the Middle East and the story is told via a buddy/road film in which the hero goes on the run from the authorities with his best friend’s fiancÃ©, who is a close friend of his family’s, after he refuses to be stop-lossed.
Written as a lighter, and less-populated, version of DEER HUNTER, STOP-LOSS is still a strong contender for War Film of a Generation, and you just might get caught up in it’s raw, mixed-up emotions. You will certainly feel the pain of the families that get caught in this exploitative move, and you just might begin to question your own patriotism when you see how little the army takes post-traumatic stress into account.
Director Kimberly Peirce (yes, the spelling of her name IS correct) hasn’t done much in films, but what she has done is the Oscar-nominated (for writing and directing) Hilary Swank starrer BOYS DON’T CRY. That script alone shows she has a deft hand with story arcs and handling actors, and here in STOP-LOSS she continues to polish her work. She does especially well with Phillippe and Gordon-Levitt.
The performances are strong across the board, with this being the first of many films that Ryan Phillippe finally begins to fulfill his promise and act like a grown-up man instead of a college freshman. As Phillippe’s best friend, Channing Tatum, and his fiance (Abbie Cornish) both turn in a strong performances. But the standout performance goes to Joseph Gordon-Levitt (remember him as Tommy from THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN?) who plays local friend Tommy Burgess whose wife leaves him after he returns home a changed and violent man. After seeing Gordon-Levitt here in STOP-LOSS we now know we can expect great things from him in the future. Ciaran Hinds (who played Ceaser on HBO’s short-lived series ROME) on the other hand, is completely wasted here.
Whether or not you consider yourself pro- or anti-war, you will all, doubtless, consider this film to be pro-soldier, and for that reason alone you just might want to see this one.
Digital Dogs rating: B
MPAA rating: R for graphic violence and pervasive language
Running Times: 112 Minutes
Producers, Director Kimberly Peirce, Screenplay Mark Richard, Kimberly Peirce, Actors Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordan-Levitt, Rob Brown, Victor Rasuk, Timothy Olyphant, Ciaran Hinds, Mamie Gummer, Abbie Cornish, Alex Frost
Â© 2008 by Digital Dogs
— Digital Dogs is gather’s Los Angeles Movie Correspondent —
Digital Dogs’ column, HOLLYWOOD POV, published every Thursday to Gather Essentials: Movies is an insider’s look at the art, people, and product of Hollywood.
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