Movie Review for Stop-Loss (2008)

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Review #627 of 365
Movie Review of Stop-Loss (2008) [R] 113 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $13.00
Where Viewed: AMC Mall of America 14, Bloomington, MN
When Seen: 28 March 2008
Time: 5:05 pm
DVD Release Date: 8 July 2008 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer

Soundtrack: Download now from John Powell - Stop-Loss - or - order the CD below

Directed by: Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry)
Written by: Mark Richard ("Huff") • Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry)

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Ryan Phillippe (Breach) • Channing Tatum (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) • Abbie Cornish (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) • Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Lookout) • Rob Brown (Take the Lead) • Victor Rasuk (Feel the Noise ) • Terry Quay (debut) • Matthew Scott Wilcox (Supercroc) • Timothy Olyphant (Hitman) • Josef Sommer (The Invasion) • Linda Emond (Across the Universe) • Ciarán Hinds (There Will Be Blood) • Mamie Gummer (Evening) • Alex Frost (Drillbit Taylor)

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
Click to see photos from the Premiere of Stop-Loss
Click to read the spoiler points for Stop-Loss
A lot of pundits have been writing about the lack of commercial success for films about the Iraq – US war. One of the reasons they cite is that the films in and of themselves show a lack of support for the troops who are risking their lives every day longer the conflict ensues. The illogic of this position is simultaneously disheartening as it is fascinating because logic would show that being anti-war is in and of itself being supportive of troops because what could ensure their safe return more fervently than and end to the war? It is fascinating because films which elucidate the many hidden or complex implications of any war, nearly should be required viewing especially for those who adamantly support war in general rather than the other way around. It tends to be people who are very supportive of the troops, in actuality, that see these films as they are avoided by people who actually support the war.

What then happens when a film pops up which details yet another mostly taboo topic among the real war mongers as opposed to the people who really support the troops, that being the concept of the "Stop-Loss". The term refers to a fine-print clause in the voluntary contract that must be signed by those who volunteer for our all-voluntary army whereby the Commander in Chief of the military, in this case and time, President George W. Bush, can extend the term of the contract against the will of the soldier in times of war. In other words, the volunteer who no longer becomes a volunteer once enlisted as the volunteer is legally bound to the term of service may be suddenly rendered an involuntary soldier. Such is the case of the main characters in co-writer / director Kimber Peirce's MTV produced film called Stop-Loss. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) and Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) return from a long tour of duty in Iraq as virtual war heroes to their tiny town in Texas. Both men and the others in their unit bear the weight of heroism with grave reluctance as just prior to their return, they become ensnared in an ambush that leads to the death and injuries of many of the men in their unit.

…absolutely gut-wrenching…enraging…
As the commander of the unit, Brandon bears the weight most for the tragedy which eventually earns him a purple heart. Their return is hailed as a victory inasmuch as anything to do with the war can be considered a victory, yet the demons each young man harbors masked by honor and duty and the serious smiles on their faces begin to surface one by one. Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), their unit member and friend from the same small town, is the first to show signs of cracking. He does everything possible to break up with his new wife and marry instead a bottle of alcohol. He takes his anger out on anyone or thing around. Brandon and Steve both try to intervene and save him, but they bear their own demons as well. Steve starts to crack as well, yet ever-steady Brandon works his magic on him trying to turn him around. The veneer holding back the horrors and guilt of his own conscience reach the breaking point, however, when he receives his stop-loss letter indicating he as been called to serve yet another tour of duty in Iraq—something he has no intention of doing and not because he lacks patriotism or fatigue but because he doubts his ability to successfully lead another group of men into battle.

With her film Boys Don't Cry, Kimberly Peirce demonstrated a tremendous ability to direct films with elevated emotional cores that never let down the entire film. In Stop-Loss we see this even more. This film, depending on the viewer's own relationship with the weight of the war in the world can range from being perceived as absolutely gut-wrenching (bring 2 boxes of Kleenexes) or enraging (bring pre-addressed, stamped envelopes with pre-written letters to your Congressmen and favorite radio talk show host). There's no way to watch and not be effected powerfully. Mr. Phillippe and Mr. Tatum demonstrate the extremes of male emotion with the latter pumping up the testosterone levels to Herculean levels. Ryan Phillippe does a brilliant job illustrating the transformative impact of this war on the soldiers which we have not yet seen but can only imagine would have to be at least as powerful as the impact of the Vietnam war was on the 1000s of veterans still living with the post-traumatic stress of that devastating conflict. Ironically, though, those soldiers received the support of many in the nation determined to end the conflict to bring them home as soon and safely as possible, while today's soldiers being sent to or returned to Iraq, possibly against their will, must endure what may seem like a complete lack of awareness, care, or interest on the part of the USAers as anti-war protests have been effectively squelched by making them appear to be anti-troops. Anyone protesting the war is made to seem like he or she is unpatriotic. This is never more obvious than when Brandon King must soul-search and ascertain whether a defection to Canada would be a better alternative than returning to Iraq.

…should be required viewing for anyone who supports the troops but not the war, supports the war, or who thinks that this war was a good idea in the first place.
It is a sad time in the USA where people who have already served this great nation are forced to consider defection and going AWOL from the very country they have fought to protect and serve. And the only reason for this is that the military lacks sufficient soldiers to maintain the Iraq and Afghanistan fronts without either the "Stop-Loss" program or instituting a draft—the latter of which the powers that be knows would spell public outrage and a speedy end to this conflict. Without a draft, there is simply no option but to send the same troops back to Iraq again and again and again.

In the end, Stop-Loss is a stunning and frightening look at not only the impact of service in the US-Iraqi war on our service people, but a scathing indictment of US Iraqi war policy. Avoiding the subject, sweeping it under the anti-troop rug, or ignoring the incredible death toll on both the US troop and Iraqi civilian side simply doesn't make what is really going on go away. Again, this film should be required viewing for anyone who supports the troops but not the war, supports the war, or who thinks that this war was a good idea in the first place.

Still Photo Gallery for Stop-Loss (2008)

(all images used with permission for press reproduction)

Ryan Phillippe as Brandon King and Channing Tatum as Steve Shriver

Ryan Phillippe as Brandon King and Channing Tatum as Steve Shriver

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Related Products from
Other Projects Featuring Stop-Loss (2008)
Cast Members
Ryan PhillippeChanning TatumAbbie Cornish
Joseph Gordon-LevittRob BrownVictor Rasuk
Terry QuayMatthew Scott WilcoxTimothy Olyphant
Josef SommerAlex FrostCiarán Hinds
Kimberly Peirce
Mark RichardKimberly Peirce
Soundtrack CD

Review-lite Stop-Loss (2008) [max of 150 words]
While pundits have been attributing the lack of commercial success of the US-Iraq war films to the perception that USAers view them as being anti-troops, co-writer / director Kimberly Peirce's film Stop-Loss turns that notion on its head. Ryan Phillippe and Channing Tatum portray US troop commanders who return from a failed mission whereby an ambush cost them not only the lives of a few of their men but, also, traumatic mental breakdowns. Trying to recover and they learning about being stop-lossed, the men have to deal with now devastated family lives as well as the nightmares of their tours of duty now set to be repeated against their will. In the end, Stop-Loss is a stunning and frightening look at not only the impact of service in the US-Iraqi war on our service people, but a scathing indictment of US Iraqi war policy.

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