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
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
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
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
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Posted: July 20, 2008.