Entertainment » Movies

Stop Loss

by David Foucher
EDGE Publisher
Friday Mar 28, 2008
Ryan Phillippe and Channing Tatum in "Stop-Loss"
Ryan Phillippe and Channing Tatum in "Stop-Loss"  (Source:Paramount Pictures)

Kimberly Pearce certainly doesn't take on simple projects. After her tour-de-force debut directing "Boys Don't Cry," the auteur searched long and hard for subject matter - and it took her eight years to commit to new material. "Stop-Loss" is a brave achievement, articulate and compelling both in its plot and in its overt assault on the Pentagon's abuse of power during the Iraq war.

The story centers on three Texan soldiers who return home at the end of a tour of duty in Iraq. The first, Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is a dedicated screw-up who can't stop drinking long enough to appear respectable. The second, Steve (Channing Tatum), is a sharpshooter who's as bullheaded and self-centered as they come. The last is Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe), who is decorated as war hero, but then does the utterly unexpected when he's told he's being "stop-lossed" (i.e., forced to re-up by the government to prevent military attrition in lieu of a draft): feeling angry and betrayed, he goes AWOL.

Pearce draws her characters well, and the three actors (with occasional exceptions from Tatum, whose model looks don't quite make of him a consummate actor) deliver hard-hitting, credible roles. She also handles the action well, depicting ground level fighting in Iraq, fighting unit camaraderie and the challenges military families face with grit and resolve. There are moments of honest introspection - when the unfairness of Brandon's situation is confronted - and also of military pride. The cohabitation of the two on the screen leads to a film whose complexion is entirely unclear.

In one sense, that's a huge weakness. Pearce's determination to show two of the three sides (notably, the point of view of the Pentagon is decidedly and perhaps deservedly absent) in tandem makes the conclusion of the film difficult to fully appreciate. No doubt Pearce intended it that way, presenting choices that for these characters are little more than illusions. But it also weakens the film's structure; it requires an extraordinary amount of expositional scene-work to set up the complex relationships between the three men so that the friction between orders and free will might be most effectively explored. Moreover, some of the emotional arguments are gratuitous and even exploitative, as when Brandon goes to a veteran's hospital to visit a member of his unit who earlier in the picture had been burned, blinded and rendered limb-deficient in Iraq.

Ultimately, however, the picture has plenty of clarity in its battle against both war and the current conflict's stop-loss policies. Its fearless depiction of the post-war trauma suffered by these Army boys is no less captivating to watch than their affection for the service that has rendered them emotionally immobile - and in the end it's a scathing condemnation of a military that forces its own scarred veterans to further abuse their minds and bodies in an attempt to keep a difficult, perhaps unwinnable, war from tanking at the polls. Is there a clear moral choice for the soldiers who must choose between desertion and military slavery? Perhaps not. But Pearce certainly makes a compelling statement about the morality of the policies that force this choice upon them.



Runtime :: 113 mins
Release Date :: Mar 28, 2008
Language :: English
Country :: United States

David Foucher is the CEO of the EDGE Media Network and Pride Labs LLC, is a member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, and is accredited with the Online Society of Film Critics. David lives with his daughter in Dedham MA.

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