Of all the things that incite anger regarding the Iraq War (and there are too many to count), the “stop-lossing” of soldiers should be higher up on the list than it probably is for most. We hear stories of soldiers who are on their third or fourth tour of duty in Iraq, but what we don’t hear much about are the soldiers who have put in the time they have so bravely signed up for and are being bullied by failed (or illegal) policy to return. It’s a “backdoor draft” and the only answer in the minds of the government. The war is simply too unpopular for a traditional draft. Some of these soldiers have sought refuge in Canada and Mexico, but they can never return to the United States as they are AWOL and can be arrested on sight.
Brandon King (Phillippe) is a decorated Sergeant who is returning home to his small Texas town as the film opens. It was his last tour and Brandon has fulfilled the years of service in which he signed up for. He returns with a heavy heart for those whom were killed or injured during an ambush on his watch, but he is determined to move on with his life and put the killing behind him. Brandon’s fellow soldiers don’t adjust so well. Tommy (Gordon-Levitt) becomes an alcoholic, Steve (Tatum) loses his girlfriend), and his home life is less than stable. Things get even worse when Brandon is called back to duty, or “stop-lossed.” Livid, Brandon begins a cross-country trek to express his injustice with the Washington suits and fellow AWOL soldiers who refuse to return to a war that are no longer signed up for – and in many cases no longer believe in.
There have been dozens of films about the Iraq conflict, but director/co-screenwriter Kimberly Peirce takes a different angle and tells the story completely from the perspective of the soldiers. Rather than dwell with a bunch of debating politicians, Peirce explores the serious psychological issues that many soldiers have upon return from any war. A scene in which Brandon visits a comrade who is now a severely burned and blinded paraplegic is beyond heartbreaking.
As sharp as the film is, it does venture into the melodramatic during the second act and some of Brandon’s moves as an AWOL soldier don’t always seem so bright. Fortunately Ryan Phillippe sells the character of Brandon in the strongest performance I have seen from him. He has scenes of power and scenes of anger, and never are we taken out of the story. Excellent supporting work is turned in by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Channing Tatum as Steve, who still truly believes in the war.
Stop-Loss will be a tough sell to most audiences. The overall topic has essentially produced a film per month and the majority seems tired and disgusted with a war that appears to have no end or defined mission. But for those looking for a refreshed perspective on tired subject matter (not to mention an injustice all but ignored by the mainstream media), Stop-Loss offers much to take away and discuss.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 113 Minutes
Rating: R for graphic violence and pervasive language. (re-rating; originally also some strong sexuality)
Theatrical Release: March 28, 2008
Directed by: Kimberly Peirce
Written by: Mark Richard & Kimberly Peirce.
Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Abbie Cornish, Channing Tatum, Timothy Olyphant, Ciaran Hinds, Alex Frost