Directed by Kimberly Peirce
Stop-Loss isn’t a political movie, per se. It’s not meant to sway the audience in any particular way about the political ideologies. It’s not necessarily an anti-war movie, nor does it preach “Support Your Troops” messages into every scene.
At heart, Stop-Loss is a drama that focuses on the effects of war – not the war itself. Rather than concentrating on the merits of war, director Kimberly Peirce focuses on the storytelling of human drama, an area that seems to suit her better, based on her directorial debut in 1999 with Boys Don’t Cry.
Stop-Loss is about a group of soldiers returning from duty in Iraq. Undoubtedly, it’s been a tough gig: On their last tour, Sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) and his men are ambushed, leaving one man in their group killed and another permanently disfigured.
Friends, family and a cheering town greet the soldiers at home in Texas, but life doesn’t get any easier for them once they return. Duty and combat has permanently changed them; one soldier is in rehabilitation after losing an arm, a leg and his eyesight after the ambush, and he is unable to visit his family in Mexico. The effects are more than physical for other soldiers: Brandon suffers from nightmares about the ambush that he feels responsible for. After their homecoming party, Sergeant Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) suddenly snaps, and Brandon finds Steve at home in a drunken fit, digging a trench hole in his front yard in his underwear.
Despite these difficulties, the soldiers are relieved to be back home. However, on the day he is set to be released, Brandon is called back for duty: He is faced with the stop-loss policy, an involuntary extension of his enlistment contract. Feeling that he’s already served his time to the war, Brandon goes AWOL as he tries to find a way to escape another tour in Iraq.
MTV Filmspresented Stop-Loss, and the relationship is obvious with the film’s marketing and previews that play along to songs such as “Bodies” by Drowning Pool. However, the cast provides more credibility than one would assume. Though the leads are best known for roles as eye-candy in movies such as Cruel Intentions (Phillippe) and Step Up (Tatum), both handle their characters well and with maturity. Another notable performance comes from Joseph Gordon-Levitt – as shell-shocked soldier Tommy Burgess, Gordon-Levitt has a depth and vulnerability found in his previous roles in Brick and The Lookout.
War in Iraq is a difficult subject to handle in films for actors, directors and writers, but Stop-Loss offers a sensitive and touching take on a delicate issue.