Friday, March 28, 2008


Stop-loss - the involuntary extension of a service member’s enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond the normal end of service. The film tells us more than 650,000 troops have been sent to Iraq and roughly one-eighth of that number have been stop-lossed, or forced to return to duty past the time of their enlistment.

We begin in Iraq with the unit under the command of Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) which includes his boyhood best friend Steve (Channing Tatum) and the somewhat unstable Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Just before shipping home the unit is caught in an ambush which takes the lives of their friends. On returning home the threesome are regarded as heroes, but Tommy and and Steve struggle with the readjustment. Brandon is just happy to be home and free of the army, that is until his C.O. (Timothy Olyphant) informs him he has been stop-lossed and will be returning to Iraq for another tour.

Brandon doesn’t take the news well and flees the scene, going AWOL and enlisting the help of Steve’s fiancée (Abbie Cornish) to help he get to Washington D.C. and discuss things with Senator Worrell (Josef Sommer).

There are several things the movie does well. The camaraderie of the unit is terrific as are the varied issues each member deals with during his struggle to readjust to being home.

Early on the scenes of the unit in Iraq and their encounter and ambush by insurgents is exceptionally well shot and managed. I’ve seen actors and directors who have done hundreds of scenes such as this struggle, and it’s a credit to director Kimberly Peirce, not known for this type of film, to do such a marvelous job here.

Phillipe is well-cast and carries the crux of a life-changing decision and its consequences throughout the entire film with aplomb. Along with Tatum and Gordon-Levitt the threesome provide specific, but never over-the-top, reactions to the violence they have lived through. These are real people with serious problems that can’t be settled with simple solutions.

If I have one major problem with the film it’s derived from one of it’s strengths. The life-altering choices it deals with, and the mental instability issues with each of these men, which you could easily spend an entire television season on, are a little too neatly resolved for my taste with an ending that seems a bit rushed. The film also meanders a bit as it becomes a road movie and a possible love story, before remembering to get back to the original story it wants to tell.

Although the film meanders a bit in places it does a remarkably good job at analyzing the limited choices those like Brandon find themselves forced to consider. Here’s a film which shows immense respect for soldiers and care for the effects of war. At the same time the film captures the confusion and uncertainty of the troops understanding their duty, but unsure about the conflict they find themselves a part of.

I have some problems with the film’s ending, but where all the choices are hard it is grudgingly reached and should spark some much needed discussion about duty and honor not only to your country but to your own beliefs as well. I will say, even with the issues I had with the film, it’s is well made and deals with its subject in an intelligent way. The film invites, even demands, you to think about these issues in detail and examine not only the choices of the characters but your own beliefs as well. I’ve spent more time thinking about this film than any other so far this year, and I can’t think of a higher compliment to give.

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