Friday, 25 April 2008

Stop-Loss - Review by Joseph Wren

Director: Kimberly Peirce
Screenwriters: Kimberly Peirce & Mark Richard
Certificate: 15
Running Time: 113 mins
Release Date: 25 April

Stop-Loss, another in a seemingly endless string of films about the Iraq War to come out of Hollywood, is an MTV production which tells the story of a war hero who rebels against a fine-print policy that forces him to go back to Iraq shortly after completing his duty.

Director Kimberly Peirce (whose last film was 1999’s exceptional Boys Don’t Cry) decided to make the film based on stories she heard via her teenage brother who has served in Iraq, giving the film an irrefutable personal agenda, which both adds and detracts to the quality of the story being told. Ryan Phillippe plays Brandon King, the strong soldier with a conscience. After arriving home after a particularly bloody battle in Tikrit, he witnesses the Deer Hunter-esque deterioration of his brothers-in-arms. Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Steve (Channing Tatum) return to Texas as heroes, but their war-torn mental anguish can’t even afford themselves one night of peace and happiness. While Tommy drinks himself into obliteration, Steve realizes his only place is in the field of combat, gearing up for another tour and leaving behind beautiful fiancĂ©e Michelle (Abbie Cornish). The path isn’t so clear for Brandon, who, after being told he is being stop-lossed back to Iraq against his wishes, goes AWOL in search of help from the madness.

What results is a road movie in which Brandon encounters stereotypical baddies in dark and disgusting locations in the American south. Like Kimberly Peirce’s other Brandon – Brandon Teena from Boys Don’t Cry – Brandon King is a character torn apart on the inside and out, and the only option becomes a complete identity change to escape the violence. The dire situation is played out with intensity and a palpable feeling of desperation and anger. Dialogue is blunt and to the point; lines such as “fuck the President” pretty much sum up the agenda of the film, which never really delivers on the policy debate that is hoped for. To drive the point home, Brandon visits an army hospital and we are given extreme close-ups of a grotesquely burned and maimed Latino soldier. It’s a lot tougher than expected for an MTV film, but one may feel pushed a bit too far by that point.

The cast is strong, and primary players like Phillippe, Gordon-Levitt, and Tatum continue to thrive in darker roles, though Phillippe particularly excels in his most physically demanding performance yet. As edutainment, Stop-Loss succeeds in explaining the titular policy whilst keeping the audience engaged in the story. As film on this topic go, Stop-Loss is stronger than most. Yet like most films about the Iraq War, it still lacks a certain depth of quality to make it the film we’ve been waiting for.

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