film review: Stop Loss

ryanPhillippeOne of the guys in Stop Loss, just back from Iraq and out drinking with some friends says what many Americans are probably thinking: “All we need to do is drop a bomb instead of this urban combat bullshit.” Stop Loss tries very hard to show all the emotional distress this war has caused for those fighting and those at home.

The film opens in Iraq with an attack on a check point, a chase, and guns, bombs and blood… The frenzied cameras, gritty cinematography provide the adrenaline and also serve to provide the background story for the main characters in Stop Loss. The boys are soon home for a leave. Back in Texas where a parade welcomes them home.

Brandon [introspective and handsome, without being a pretty boy Ryan Phillippe] receives a purple heart. He’s happy because he’s out. He’s been the squad sergeant and everyone looks to him to lead the group and keep everyone on target and together. He served his duty and did his job. He went to Iraq after 9/11 for all the right reasons and now he’s disillusioned by the carnage he’s witnessed in the Middle East. After being told of his stop loss order, Brandon soon goes AWOL with the foolish plan to visit a U.S. Senator who told him to “drop by Washington if you ever need anything.” The themes of this film can only work in a state like Texas where so many are invoved in the military. In Massachusetts, for instance, there are no parades. Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) drinks a lot and cries quite a bit but desperately wants to stay in the military, despite his conflicted thoughts. And Steve (Channing Tatum) is the Hoo-rah, all or nothing, lifer. Although he has a quick flip out when he gets back where he fights with his girlfriend Michelle (Abbie Cornish) and digs a foxhole and spends the night in it fully armed and in his underwear. The three boys are the id, ego and superego for the war in Iraq. Tommy is the id, Steve is the ego and Brandon is the superego. Each guy’s story could really be a separate film.

It’s complicated and innerving to return from a war where when you left you knew, beyond a doubt, why you were fighting and for what and for whom. On return to have that sense of purpose flipped on its side must be devastating. There is little explanation for our involvement in Iraq at this point. The fighting is not being done to protect Americans but to keep a region stable that we made unstable. It’s really a tragedy that some many troops are dying for this.

By addressing Stop Loss, writer/director Kimberly Peirce [Boys Don’t Cry] who has a brother serving in Iraq, draws attention to a little known war time occurrence. As there is no draft in the United States (as long as John McCain does not win the election), by executive order, soldiers can be Stop Loss. This means that they can be sent back for additional tours of duty. More than they had originally planned on. In Stop Loss, Peirce tends toward being too ambitious in showing every possible angle imaginable (including an upbeat blind amputee at a Veteran’s hospital—one of the squad Brandon led). This diffuses the issues and concerns instead of making them powerful moments in the film.

Unfortunately the film attempts to tackles too many war-related themes and it causes confusion and disparity and makes the film wander. Trip to the military hospital and then the scene where someone who has been dishonorably discharged and commits suicide gets a full military funeral. I don’t think so. The bold imagery provides an emotional connection but it just does not fit. I know why, as a filmmaker, Peirce chose certain scenes. She wanted to tell the story of the war from all possible angles and in doing so needed these powerful images of coffins and pomp and military bravado. Surely Peirce means well and I wanted to cry and really love this film.

Stop Loss delves into the psyches of those involved in war and also provides mediation on the war’s effects both physically and mentally on those directly and indirectly involved. Unfortunately the film lacks levity and depth to make it truly memorable and relevant. I wanted to be able to tell everyone to run out and see it in the theater but I can’t. It’s well worth putting in your Netflix queue and that’s unfortunate because Peirce is a heartfelt talented filmmaker and there certainly are stories to tell about Iraq that focus on humanity.

STEELE RECOMMENDS: NETFLIX IT!

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