Stop-Loss **1/2 (out of ****)

Director: Kimberly Peirce
Writers: Mark Richard and Kimberly Peirce
Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Abbie Cornish, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ciaran Hinds, Rob Brown, Victor Rasuk
Rating: R (graphic violence and pervasive language)
Running Time: 113 min
Release Date: 4/4/08

Staff Sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) is in command of an infantry squad doing a tour in Iraq. One day while guarding a checkpoint two Iraqis in a car make a drive-by attack on their position with AK-47s. King orders a pursuit with his units humvees in accordance with his standing orders or at least that is what he claims later in the film. Perhaps this was a very poorly though out tactic as the terrorists soon flee into a residential area with narrow streets. It’s an ambush.

During the firefight one of his men was gravely wounded by an RPG. Another was killed when his M-4 jammed and a gunman open up on him from a rooftop position. Yet, another disobeyed Brandon’s ordered and entered an apartment. He was wounded. Brandon entered the building to rescue his man and after encountering enemy fire threw a grenade into a room resulting in the death not only of a terrorist but some children as well.

Upon his return home to Texas he is given a hero’s welcome and awarded the Silver Star. But, all is not right as he is haunted by his experiences. He clearly blames himself for the ambush and the deaths of his own men and the no doubt the civilian deaths as well. He wants out and since his enlistment is over that is what he expects. The Army has other ideas and he is notified that he has been given a stop-loss order. He is being sent back to Iraq. The stop-loss provision allows the Army to extend the time of service of critical personnel in time of war. Brandon basically flips out at the news, gets in an argument with his battalion commander who orders him sent to the stockade. On the way to the lockup he over power his guards and escapes from the base fleeing in a stolen vehicle.

The balance of the movie centers on Brandon’s flight from the authorities and his growing realization that he has no good options. At first he plans to travel to Washington, DC to ask for the help of his Senator. He is accompanied by Michelle (Abbie Cornish), his best buddy’s fiancée, who provides him with transportation. This trip is anything but well though out. Brandon is clearly suffering from psychological trauma as he dives into a swimming pool only to rescue a shit while seeing it as fallen comrade. Eventually he calls the Senator’s office only to find out that the Senator doesn’t want to get involved with Brandon’s fight with the Army.

Next he considers fleeing to Canada but that plan is put on hold when one of the men from his unit shoots himself. Director Kimberly Pierce presents these young soldiers as on the edge of a breakdown. At one point Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) agrees to reenlist and volunteer to be trained as a sniper in return for the battalion commander dropping the charges against Brandon if only he would come back to the Army. This in turn causes Michelle to break up with Steve who can’t bare the strain of separation and uncertainty that another tour in Iraq would entail.

Stop-Loss for its many flaws in a powerful film about the young men who are fighting and dying for us as we debate the war into which we have sent them. Pierce is clearly pushing her own political agenda as well. She certainly has tapped into real problems that result from fighting such a long war with a small volunteer army. Yet, the presentation risks an inaccurate projection of isolated case to the whole U.S. military. It seems unwise to broadcast our weaknesses to the world while our troops are still in the field. A movie of this type would be better left until after the war is over.


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