- Rated R
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All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ollowing the barrage of post-9/11 war movies released during the tail end of 2007, the last thing we needed was another drama about U.S. soldiers coming home from Iraq. Between the incredibly cheesy “Home of the Brave” and the much better (but still flawed) “In the Valley of Elah,” most moviegoers have already suffered through hours of preaching on post-war behavior. Unfortunately, every director in the industry seems intent on making a protest film, and while Kimberly Peirce’s “Stop-Loss” is arguably more pro-soldier than anti-war, her message is overshadowed by a contradictory (and ultimately more government-friendly) ending.
Ryan Phillippe stars as Brandon King, a decorated war hero who, upon returning home from his final tour of duty in Iraq, is surprised to discover that he’s just been stop-lossed. It’s a legal loophole that allows the U.S. military to extend a soldier’s enlistment contract until the completion of the current war. Scheduled to ship back out at the end of the month, Brandon goes AWOL and heads north to visit his senator in D.C. When the senator refuses to help him, Brandon must choose between fleeing to Canada or returning to duty.
Though the movie begins very promisingly with a well-choreographed battle through the streets of Iraq, everything goes downhill from there. The story becomes overly melodramatic, and there’s not a single solid performance to be found. Victor Rasuk probably fares the best of the bunch in his limited role as a battle-scarred (but surprisingly upbeat) soldier, while Phillippe is better than usual. Of course, that doesn’t mean much when you compare it alongside past performances, but since the audience is forced to follow him around for two hours, it could have been worse.
Channing Tatum, on the other hand, is absolutely terrible as King’s childhood friend. Giving Hayden Christensen a run for the most wooden performance of the year, Tatum also decides that, despite the fact that his character is from Texas, and that all of the other actors have adopted Southern accents, he’s just not going to bother. It comes off as incredibly amateurish and will no doubt make “G.I. Joe” fans begin to worry about his upcoming lead role in the big screen adaptation.
Rounding out the cast is Joseph Gordon-Levitt who, despite usually bringing his A-game, never has a chance to shine as the clique’s resident fuck-up. It’s one of only many problems plaguing Peirce’s film, and when all is said and done, there’s no one else to blame other than Peirce herself. It’s been nine years since her directorial debut (1999’s “Boys Don’t Cry”), and the inexperience shows. Aside from her inability to control her cast (Tatum’s lack of an accent is just as much her fault as his), she also doesn’t seem entirely confident in the story she’s trying to tell.
She spends 95% of the movie saying one thing, only to completely contradict herself in the closing minutes. She’s also adamant about portraying various post-war syndromes (Tatum’s character suffers shellshock on the first night, while Phillippe's snaps into soldier mode during a run-in with some street thugs), but never once mentions the lack of mental rehabilitation that the soldiers are receiving. Instead, it’s just assumed that the audience understands what she's trying to accomplish, but unless that includes the sad realization that the government always wins, “Stop-Loss” is an even bigger failure than it was setting itself up to be.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
I may not have been a particularly big fan of the movie, but the single-disc release of “Stop-Loss” features a nice collection of bonus material highlighted by an audio commentary with director Kimberly Peirce and co-writer Mark Richard. The latter doesn’t speak much throughout, but Peirce more than makes up for it with some interesting insight into production. A making-of featurette (complete with candid interviews from the cast) adds to the discussion, while an on-set featurette (“A Day in Boot Camp”) and a handful of deleted scenes round out the DVD.