Stop-Loss


Directed by: Kimberly Peirce
Written by:Mark Richard, Kimberly Peirce
Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Abbie Cornish, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rob Brown, Channing Tatum, Timothy Olyphant
Released: August 7, 2008
Grade: B+

Brandon King (Phillippe) is a sergeant in the United States Army.  He’s just returned to his family’s home in Texas after a difficult tour of duty in Iraq.  He puts on a brave face but Brandon is a scarred man.  Some of the troops under his command were killed in Iraq and Brandon blames himself for their deaths.  He is struggling to clear these horrifying memories from his mind.

Brandon knows the time has come to get out.  He believes the Iraq war is a lost cause and he’s no longer prepared to risk the lives of himself and his men.  He wants to live a quieter life on his parent’s ranch.  It won’t be that easy however.  When he hands in his resignation notice at the army base, Brandon is “stop-lossed”.

Let me explain this term.  Stop-loss is a policy of the U.S. government and applies to the armed forces.  A military person’s set term of service can be forcibly extended in the interests of national security during times of war.

I’m not questioning this policy.  If the United States were under attack, I can understand the government’s need to use experienced troops to help protect the country.  However, how does it apply to the war in Iraq?  Congress never officially declared it as a “war” and public support for George W. Bush’s actions have been waning.  Should the military be able to force soldiers to return to the Iraqi battlefields against their will?

This new movie from director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) will have you thinking about these questions.  It certainly opened my eyes to the concept of “stop-loss”.  Peirce is hoping that it will increase awareness of the issue and help get something done.  There have been many protests and legal challenges against the policy but it still remains.

The film follows Brandon’s efforts to have his stop-loss overturned.  There’s more to the story however.  We see Brandon confront his inner-demons and we also see the effect that the war has had on his close friends.  These include those who served with him in Iraq as well as the family members who waited back home.

There’s a lot going on the film… perhaps too much so.  There are certain people who I wanted to know more about but the movie doesn’t delve very deep.  The most significant would be Tommy (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  He too was traumatised by the war and is now on a lonely path of self-destruction.

Whilst it is a bit wishy-washy at times, I did like Stop-Loss for its ending and its overall message.  The performances are great also.  Ryan Phillippe (Crash) continues to develop as an actor and Australian Abbie Cornish (Candy) is great in her biggest role to date.  Iraq war films are a turn-off for some people (as box-office figures show) but this will appreciated by those interested in the subject matter.