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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Stop-Loss

MOVIE REVIEWS

STOP-LOSS (2008)

Starring Ryan Phillippe, Abbie Cornish, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Victor Rasuk, Timothy Olyphant, Ciarán Hinds, Rob Brown, Mamie Gummer, Peter Gerety and Laurie Metcalf.

Screenplay by Mark Richard and Kimberly Peirce.

Directed by Kimberly Peirce.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures.  111 minutes.  Rated R.

Stop-Loss

The war in Iraq has caused so much acrimony and debate that it perhaps makes a certain amount of sense that most of the films which have explored it have pretty much tried to have it both ways.  Hate the war but love the troops, the war is a just reaction to an act of aggression, no war is ever right, fight them there so we don't have to fight them here, war is hell - all these arguments and more get face-time in Kimberly Peirce's alternately moving and frustrating drama Stop-Loss, the director's long-awaited follow-up to Boys Don't Cry.

It is a look at the troops back home - in Bush country of Texas, in fact.  Three soldiers from the same hometown have done their time in the war and return to their families and friends - however they aren't home even a day when you realize that the war has, in different ways, screwed each up in the head.

There is the heroic leader (Ryan Phillippe), obviously the most grounded and duty bound of the lot.  His best friend is the hotshot sniper (Channing Tatum), who quickly finds himself having flashbacks, digging trenches in his girlfriend's lawn and smacking her around a bit.  And he is not the really screwed up one - their loser buddy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls deep into a spiral of alcohol, rage and melancholia.

The irony of the thing (well, maybe not so much irony as heavy-handed storytelling) is that the two guys who are most disturbed are ready, even eager, to return to war.  The supposedly brave and grounded one feels he has done his time and is ready to move on with his life.

It isn't all as simple as that, though, as he gets caught in one of the big Iraq War contractual loopholes.  He is stop-lossed.

Stop-Loss is the term for a policy of the current military - which is understaffed because it is a full volunteer army rather than a drafted one - where they can send a soldier out for additional tours of duty even after he has fulfilled his commitment.  There is no recourse or argument, they just have to go or face the consequences.

Now, despite the fact that he is proud of his service, Phillippe refuses to return to war, instead going AWOL and hitting the road with his buddy's ex (Abbie Cornish).  They head towards Washington hoping to speak with a Senator to fight the stop-loss, and on the way run across an underground world of fugitive soldiers, shady lawyers and border jumpers.

In the meantime, his two hometown buddies are melting down with the pressure of life at home, hoping desperately that they too can return to the battle-lines - if they can hold it together long enough to be sent out.

As someone who has been against the war from the beginning, I am always open to hear stories which explore the problems with the current conflict.  (Though, in fairness, I am also open to stories which explain the point of view of the other side.)

Stop-Loss can't seem to choose its point of view though.  The film is vaguely anti-war and at the same time macho-ly patriotic, blatantly anti-military and yet seems to treat the anti-war types as wimps, hates battle and yet shows it as the defining characteristic in these men's lives.  Then, after trying to press one agenda through most of the movie, it does an abrupt about-face leading to a probably realistic and yet still vaguely unsatisfying outcome. 

This need to be all things to all people negates much of the good acting, intriguing dialogue and situations and passionate arguments.  There is very much that is skillfully done in this film - I just wish they had picked a viewpoint and stuck with it.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: July 20, 2008.

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Copyright ©2008   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: July 20, 2008.

 

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