DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
STOP-LOSS (director/writer: Kimberly Peirce; screenwriter: Mark Richard; cinematographer: Chris Menges; editor: Claire Simpson; music: John Powell; cast: Ryan Phillippe (Sgt. Brandon King), Channing Tatum (Staff Sgt. Steve Shriver), Abbie Cornish (Michelle), Linda Emond (Ida King), Ciaran Hinds (Roy King), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Tommy Burgess), Timothy Olyphant (Lt. Col. Boot Miller), Victor Rasuk (Pfc. Rico Rodriguez), Rob Brown (Isaac "Eyeball" Butler), (Mark Richard (Pastor Colson), Laurie Metcalf (Mrs. Colson), Steven Strait (Michael Colson), Peter Gerety (Carlson), Josef Sommer (Senator Orton Worrell), Mamie Gummer (Jeanie); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Gregory Goodman/Kimberly Peirce/Mark Roybal/Scott Rudin; Paramount/MTV; 2008)

 
"Telling antiwar film as seen through the eyes of those patriotic volunteers who fought in Iraq and are now disillusioned."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An uneven but nevertheless telling antiwar film as seen through the eyes of those patriotic volunteers who fought in Iraq and are now disillusioned. It was co-produced by MTV Films, as a result the soundtrack is rife with heavy metal, hip-hop, alt-pop, southern rock, and odd sounding Middle Eastern tunes. Kimberly Peirce ("Boys Don’t Cry"-1999) keeps it as a testosterone-filled actioner and gripefest by grunts who have after two tours of war duty returned to their Texas base and have trouble adjusting to civilian life during their R & R leave. Ms. Peirce co-wrote the script with Mark Richard, and does a nice job letting us see how the returning twentysomething aged soldiers are emotionally wounded and what they think about the war, themselves and their country. 

The film opens with its most captivating scene set in Tikrit, Iraq, as Staff Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) and his squad are in charge of a checkpoint post and a carload of armed insurgents try to drive by while shooting at them. The soldiers give chase and wind up ambushed in a narrow city alley and get into a bloody shoot-out with the enemy who are using rocket launchers, automatic weapon fire and explosives. The Americans bravely enter the nearby buildings to kill a bunch of the enemy and civilians. Sgt. King is shaken as he loses three men and Pfc. Rico Rodriguez is severely wounded (part of his face is scarred and he loses an arm, a leg, and his sight).

A hero's parade is set for Brandon in his hometown of Brazos, in rural Texas, as he receives a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star from a windbag four-flusher patriotic sounding Texas senator, Orton Worrell (Josef Sommer), while his proud parents beam with joy. Brandon's loose-cannon Army buddy, Sgt. Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), someone he's known from childhood, is reunited with his longtime fiancé Michele (Abbie Cornish, Australian actress) but the aggressive soldier has a hard time calming down and connecting with his loving lady as he goes on a drunk. Michele's been friends from childhood with Brandon, and they try to reach Steve who is also set to be discharged but finds he can't get the Army out of his system and re-ups. The third tortured soul of this close-knit group is Tommy (Gordon-Levitt), who has a restraining order placed on him after beating up his wife, going on a drunk, suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder and acting too crazy to be kept in the service (something he wants more than anything else, as he considers himself too sideways to be anything else but a soldier).

Despite the outfit's gung-ho stern commander Lt. Colonel Boot Miller's (Timothy Olyphant) re-up speech, Brandon no longer buys into the war pitch and has made a decision not to re-enlist. But before being released, the excellent soldier is shocked to find he's been stop-lossed by the Army. This works as a backdoor draft, forcing him to go on another tour of duty because the army is short of men and during war a president can legally issue such an order to have the soldier do multiple tours of duty. The injustice of this order has Brandon react violently, as he's convinced he made his sacrifice for his country and they shouldn't treat him with such disrespect. Miller orders Brandon sent to the stockade until he ships out, in order to make sure he doesn't go AWOL. But the enraged Brandon escapes and Michele drives him to Washington to ask the senator for help, but there's no help from anyone in the country except from a shady character (Peter Gerety) in NYC who gets him for $1,000 a phony passport and a contact in Canada. Brandon, in the conclusion, is left only with the bad choice of going on his own to Mexico under a new identity and knowing he can never legally return, or the other bad choice of doing another tour of duty.

The reality on the ground has over 4,000 Americans killed so far, 650,000 troops who have been deployed in the war and 81,000 received a stop-loss order. This film effectively tells how such a far-reaching unfair order can be so devastating to those who are asked to make sacrifices for the war far beyond the usual and it examines the human consequences on them, their family and friends. Though the dramatics at times seem contrived and ham-fisted, the merit in the film is that it gives the public a chance to judge for themselves the injustice of the stop-loss order as it unabashedly advocates on behalf of the soldiers. It's one of those flawed overwrought melodramas with an unfortunate shrill antiwar diatribe that is however an essential film despite its faults because it is always sincere as it sympathetically sides with the flawed soldiers and sharply points out all the collateral damage this bungled war has done in both Iraq and in the States to the American soldier and the civilians. 

REVIEWED ON 4/17/2008        GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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