A Review of ‘Stop-Loss.’ In Theaters Now


Intriguing cast, subject. But MTV’s behind this??

Ryan Phillippe (Breach), Abbie Cornish (Candy), Channing Tatum (Step Up), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Lookout), and co-writer/director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry)

“I did what I had to do for the time I had to do it. I’m not doin’ it no more.” Highly decorated (think Purple Heart, Bronze Star) Sgt. Brandon King (Phillippe) returns home to Brazos, Texas with his outfit of wartime buddies for leave that should be permanent - he and his best friend Steve (Tatum) are getting out of the Army. Think again - Brandon is stop-lossed back into duty, shipping off for Iraq by the end of the month, causing him to go AWOL. With Steve’s frustrated fiancee’ Michele (Cornish) in tow, Brandon embarks upon a road trip towards Washington, DC with the hopes of having a local Senator overturn the military’s decision.

“I ain’t scared. I’m pissed off! This family’s done fighting this war.” Having never backed this country’s knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 to invade Iraq, I’ve BEEN “done fighting this war.” A movie like “Stop-Loss” would seem to merely preach to the converted like myself, yet it is much, much more. Try an examination of our soldiers, our “heroes,” most of them boys doing men’s work, lethally weaponized cauldrons of barely suppressed rage, often suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) once removed from the combat theater. Every situation in the real world is a reenactment of the war, these young men constantly fighting an enemy they can’t see, the enemy within.

The writing feels real, the dialogue appropriately salty; I am so glad they went “R” with this film, as life (especially in wartime) is rarely a PG-13 affair. Opening up with a fairly tense, violent, and surprisingly authentic looking firefight on the streets of Iraq, Peirce is then free to explore its aftereffects on the soldiers once Stateside, from the alcoholism to the VA hospital. While one major plot point is slightly predictable, the movie is powerful nonetheless, thanks to a gritty mix of handheld, first person, wartime camerawork and traditional setups of smalltown Americana.

Highly underrated Ryan Phillippe anchors this talented cast. His shy, contemplative Brandon kicks into another gear when pushed, whether by battle or unfair military decree, proving to be the glue of the company by presence if not by example. Channing Tatum is a big, strapping talent, proving to be more than muscles and moves with this credibly “Robo-soldier” turn as Steve, a gung ho military man torn between his two loves, his country and his girl. Cranking out another utterly convincing performance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt chameleons his way into the skin of walking DUI Tommy Burgess, whose entire existence is defined by the military.

I must give pause (and a separate paragraph) to a new REEL DEAL Crush. I tried to fight it, y’all, but the more I think about Abbie Cornish, the more I like what she’s about. Thick (by Hollywood standards, which means she looks NORMAL), fierce, yet accessibly emotional, Cornish imbues Michele with a down-home sex appeal that’s very average, Texan girl-next-door - instantly relatable. She has a discernable hardness that’s brittle at the same time - not in a weak, stereotypically female way but in a genuine, human way. Plus she’s naturally curvy with a fashionably unkempt look about her… How could I not Crush on her?

But this movie deserves more credit than its casting. Kimberly Peirce reminds us that she’s a filmmaker to reckon with, adroitly dealing with such a highly charged subject. Although the country may have been late to the “we never should have been there in the first place” pity party, a third rail of politics is the American military. “We’re fightin’ over there, so we don’t have to fight ‘em over here!” “We’re bringing freedom to Iraq!” Pick your jingoistic cliche’ - they’re all equally well-worn and meaningless. What is meaningFUL is that after having completed their commitment, their contract to their country, at least 81,000 of our 650,000 troops that have been sent to Iraq have been stop-lossed; they completed their contract just for the U.S. government to break it. Can’t you be patriotic, support the troops, and still disagree with (such a criminal) policy?

The most patriotic thing you can do is debate, if not protest or support, this war. THAT is true freedom. Just for having the guts, guile, and talent alone to artistically bring up this discussion of the so-called back-door draft, Kimberly Peirce may be one of the biggest patriots of all.

@@@@ REELS
An urban legend/instant classic.

Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for The 213 Magazine, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com where his new novel I DO? is available NOW.

Email This Post Email This Post

Leave a Comment


April 10th, 2008 at 11:41 pm AVADVA says:

………..saw it this weekend and agree with you. it was emotional in ways that “in the valley of elah” wasn’t for me. don’t know if it was an age thing or what, but this film appealed to me much more. kimberly peirce is a talent to be reckoned with for sure. ryan showed some chops once i pushed aside the memory that this was the film that he got caught cheating on reese on. says us weekly anyway. oh, and i’ll trade you an abbie cornish crush for channing tatum anyday.

April 11th, 2008 at 2:20 pm dmaye says:

Very interesting