Ryan Philippe leads an all-star cast in Stop Loss, the inspirational film about family, friends, loyalty and camaraderie. After completing his tour of duty, Brandon King (Phillippe) faces an unexpected new challenge that will put him at odds with former soldiers and test the bonds with old friends. Featuring rising stars Channing Tatum, Abbie Cornish and Joseph- Gordon Levitt, Stop-Loss is the must-own DVD that critics are hailing as a "generation-defining film."
The war in Iraq may not be over yet, but it’s just as pertinent a time as any to ask the question that Stop Loss poses- what happens to the soldiers after they return?
Stop Loss examines this consequence through the lens of three Iraqi war buddies that return home after completing a tour of duty. There’s Sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Philippe), still reeling from his most recent assault on a group of militants that has left several of his men dead or wounded. There’s his best friend, Sergeant Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), engaged to be married to a beautiful Texas hometown girl, Michelle (Abbie Cornish). And finally there’s Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) whose recent marriage is falling apart due to his bouts of heavy drinking.
The movie’s title derives from a policy of the United States military under the enlistment contract that allows the army to involuntarily extend a service member’s active duty beyond the initial end of their term of service. That is the quandary facing Sergeant King whose hopes for an end to his days of combat are quickly dashed when ironically his exemplary performance causes him to be stop-lossed. His President needs him in Iraq, so his superior tells him, but he has had enough. So he goes AWOL, aided on the road by Michelle, also his long-time friend.
Yes unlike many movies of the war that emphasize the disillusionment of soldiers in the war, this movie focuses on the aftermath of war as much as it does on the controversial stop-loss policy that has dogged the military. And it works- primarily because director Kimberly Pierce (her first movie after the award-winning Boys Don’t Cry) keeps the story grounded in realism. She depicts emphatically the struggle these stop-lossed soldiers face of having to go on the run in their own country after having dutifully served their nation.
Of course, hers is a one-sided story of a decorated war hero faced with the choice of forever living his life as a fugitive or starting his life anew in a foreign land. One surmises that there are other less noble soldiers out there who have also gone AWOL. Nevertheless, it is no less enlightening as commentary on the lives of about 650,000 such soldiers since damaged by such a draconian law.
But Stop Loss is also about the camaraderie among King and his fellow soldiers. Theirs is a friendship forged through times of war that is put to the test when King, the leader among them, suddenly goes on the run. Here the movie relies on the strength of the actors to portray the unravelling of their solidarity. Alas while Ryan Philippe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt turn in solid performances, model turned actor Channing Tatum is decidedly wooden and unconvincing.
What was ostensibly a deliberate choice was the setting of Stop Loss in Texas, President George W. Bush’s own Red-aligned state. Indeed, it is this and other detailed touches that lend the movie a greater sense of authenticity. It is no less an important movie- for it dares to raise not just the question of “what now” but also “what happens after”, a question that the US in its fervour for revenge has somehow forgotten to ponder.
Commentary with director Kimberly Pierce and co-writer Mark Richard: Most notable in its insight on the research that the writers did in order to ensure the accuracy of what was portrayed in the movie.
The Making of Stop Loss: A 20-minute short on the inspiration behind the movie as well as the cast members’ experience on filming Stop Loss. Pretty interesting stuff.
A Day in Boot Camp: If you want to play a role, you have to live the role. And for the actors of Stop Loss, this was something they did literally. Surely to bring back memories of BMT for NSmen.
Picture looks great especially across the scrubby Iraqi landscape. However, the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is surprisingly dull during the combat scenes.
Review by Gabriel Chong