Decorated Iraq war hero Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) makes a celebrated return to his small Texas hometown following his tour of duty. He tries to resume the life he left behind with the help and support of his family and his best fried, Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), who served with him in Iraq. Along with their other war buddies, Brandon and Steve try to make peace with civilian life. Then, against Brandon's will, the Army orders him back to duty in Iraq, which upends his world. The conflict tests everything he believes in: the bond of family, the loyalty of friendship, the limits of love and the value of honour.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Yet another entry in the 'war is hell' genre, Stop-Loss is driven by frustration with the US war in Iraq, and it is expressed through the suffering of young soldiers who are sent back into that hell-hole after they feel they have done more than enough. It is an examination of the effects of policy at ground level, where terms like 'surge' and 'stop-loss' are mere euphemisms for the endless death and destruction of young men in a foreign land, fighting a deadly guerrilla foe.
Following the harrowing and superbly made opening sequences of hand to hand combat in Iraq, we can feel the frustrations and the anger through the film, and we sympathise. But the film has a confused message. Confused because it lays down all the right arguments and emotional drivers for our central character's actions, but twists itself into a patriotic propaganda movie right at the end. It ends up as a scream of frustrated rage, tempered by American heroism - despite itself. And it's a tad simplistic in its treatment of the war.
Ryan Philippe is excellent as the traumatised Sergeant with a demon on his back, but this demon becomes a false engine in the film's emotional story. It is a lazy device for the filmmakers with which to whip his journey into the right arc. Channing Tatum has a much more coherent character to play, a career soldier who is married to the army and his emotional battles make sense. Abbie Cornish makes a terrific Texan girlfriend to Channing's Shriver, and a good friend to Phillippe's Brandon. Excellent supports help, but the film seems hopelessly confused about what it's trying to say or even how to say it, with a mixture of old fashioned flashbacks and faux amateur videos from the front line.
To make things a tad worse, John Powell's score is often sentimental when the film's tone requires a dry tone, and the natural mood of downbeat drama loses its edge and the film becomes run of the mill, instead of exceptional, as its subject matter demands.
Review by Louise Keller:
In this disturbing film, director Kimberly Peirce tells a different kind of war story. It is the story of a government that uses the small print to assure them of their soldiers' commitment. Here, Ryan Phillippe delivers a powerful performance as Sgt. Brandon King, an exemplary war hero, whose bravery on the ground in Iraq is beyond reproach, yet who is not allowed to leave the army when he so desires. When he is stop-lossed and ordered to return to active duty on a technicality, he is faced with the kind of decision a patriotic American dreads.
After being given a glimpse of the camaraderie between the members of the army unit in Tikrit, we are part of a harrowing pursuit of insurgents after an outburst of gunfire. Peirce captures the sense of terror as the soldiers leave their checkpoint and find themselves in the midst of a bloody battle involving guns, grenades, explosions and uncertainty. The face of death is a haunting image that includes both soldiers and civilians. From the horrors of war, the remaining soldiers are welcomed back to Texas, hailed as heroes, but find it impossible to shake their ghosts and shadows. Irrational, irresponsible behaviour is the result as the soldiers overact, drink to excess and become uncontrollably violent, unable to adjust. But there's worse to come. When Phillippe's Brandon discovers he is being forced to return to Iraq, his options are untenable, questioning principles, patriotism and commitment.
All the performances are strong: Channing Tatum as Brandon's best friend Steve, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the troubled Tommy and Abbie Cornish as Steve's fiancé, who makes her own tough decisions. Stop-Loss is a tough film to watch and one that raises issues of concern that travel far beyond the war-torn regions. But whether its message is accurately targeted is for the viewer to decide.
Published May 28, 2009
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STOP-LOSS: DVD (MA)
CAST: Ryan Phillippe, Abbie Cornish, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Channing Tatum, Timothy Olyphant, Ciarán Hinds
PRODUCER: Gregory Goodman, Kimberly Peirce, Mark Roybal, Scott Rudin
DIRECTOR: Kimberly Peirce
SCRIPT: Kimberly Peirce, Mark Richard
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Chris Menges
EDITOR: Claire Simpson
MUSIC: John Powell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: David Wasco
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 7, 2008
PRESENTATION: 16 x 9
SPECIAL FEATURES: None
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
DVD RELEASE: December 26, 2008