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Movie Review: Stop-Loss

Stop-Loss: Overwrought but Good-Hearted

It's an oft-lamented fact that movies about the Iraq war don't do very well — either in box office sales or with audience favor in general. There are plenty of reasons for this, but the fact is it's a challenge for filmmakers to put out movies about a controversial war that isn't yet over. With Stop-Loss, the filmmakers have attempted to make the topic more appealing by getting MTV on board, using popular good-looking young actors and featuring plenty of quick-edit montages set to rap songs.

The main characters in the movie are also relateable and familiar, just regular guys, playing with their techie devices, engaging in silly banter. This is presented right from the start, with a mock-amateur video in which a group of soldiers jostle each other, trade good-natured insults and sing along together as one of them, Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), plays his guitar. The action moves quickly to a bloody, violent conflict into which Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Philippe) inadvertently leads his group of soldiers. Some of the men don't make it out alive, one is severely injured and all the others are thoroughly messed up by the experience. This is the basis for all that comes afterward, so


Brandon returns to his hometown a decorated hero, along with his childhood best friend Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) and the young Tommy Burgess. Relieved, he begins settling back into civilian life when he is informed that he's being sent back to Iraq via stop-loss, the US policy by which soldiers who have completed their terms of service can be called back to serve again, sometimes referred to as a back-door draft. Confused and furious, Brandon lashes out at his superiors and then goes AWOL and hits the road to Washington DC to discuss the matter with a senator he knows. Of course, the senator won't interact with a fugitive soldier, and Brandon's options narrow down to two: go back to Iraq, or leave the country and never see his family again.

I've heard people label this as an antiwar, antimilitary film when that's only half-right. It's antiwar, for sure, but it's fiercely promilitary. The film shows military families in the most respectful, reverent, and sympathetic light. Director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) has a tenderness for these families, for Americana and cowboy culture, draping her Texas in blue and yellow hues and a warm, downhome atmosphere. These are good people, upright citizens, solid in their belief that it's right to serve one's country no matter what. This belief is challenged by the stop-loss policy, and this challenge — especially since they think they've been doing their time all these years, only to be told it's not quite enough — makes them angry. Very, very angry.

Anger is the key word for this movie, in fact. This is no deft, subtle, poignant piece of art but an explosion of rage, indignation, and violence. Those going to the film thinking there might be a strong love story involved — there isn't. The friendships between the men are intriguing and deeply rooted, but ultimately everything takes a backseat to just this blind fury Brandon feels over his lose-lose situation. Despite the muddled nature of this film, the helplessness of Brandon's dilemma clearly comes through. What's refreshing about this film is that this helplessness reflects the state of political affairs in Iraq on a grander scale. Other movies (Lions for Lambs, for example) may insert some heartfelt sadness amidst the two hours of people discussing politics, but this one does the opposite — a movie full of anger, machismo, and despair peppered with bits of politics. It's not a great movie. The accents are mostly terrible and the performances are not the best (except for the unbearably pitiable Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is excellent). But it is a powerful salute to our troops, and brings an important issue to light.

To see the trailer and more clips from Stop-Loss, check out

Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Join The Conversation
hayworthgilda hayworthgilda 9 years
I was not sure if I'd like this movie -- the subject matter looked interesting, and I really loved Kimberly Peirce's first movie Boys Don't Cry, but the idea of a Channing/Ryan act-off made me nervous, and I was somewhat suspicious of how it would portray the US gov and military. I was REALLY surprised at how good Ryan and Channing were, and how respectful of the military it was.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
The subject of this film is kind of like Wal-Mart suing that mentally challenged woman for more money than she has. Yes, it was in her health insurance plan that she would have to pay them back for all medical expenses her insurance covered if a settlement was given, but the settlement was from a trucking company that hit her. She needed that $400,000 to pay for the 24/7 medical care she would need for the rest of her life. Just because it is in the contract doesn't make it any less tragic. Just because a lawyer thought of it before they signed up doesn't make it any less exploitative. We are so lucky to have these people that give up so much to protect us. The least our government can do is treat them better than a sketchy salesman would. I think it is great that this film is respectful to the troops. I feel that it is good for people to hear their story, even if it is just one opinion of many that surely exist among them.
nomerz nomerz 9 years
I saw it last night ... not an amazing movie, but good. It was a lot more intense and emotional than I was expecting. I think stand-out performances belong to Joesph Gordon-Levitt and Victor Rasuk. And for once, Channing and Ryan's acting didn't make me giggle. Not much, anyway. And may I please be a giddy little teeny-bopper for a minute? Channing. In nothing except his underwear. In the dirt. Sweaty. Amazing. Ha!
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
BShax, I did not intend to apply that generalization to everyone in Hollywood. I believe a lot of people have changed opinions of the military action in Iraq as more information has become available. However, movies like "Stop Loss" depict the government as scheming and dishonest. I personally believe that's more a knee-jerk reaction than a careful evaluation of the issue. I'm always in favor of people formulating informed, reasoned opinions. I just don't think it happens as often as it should.
BShax BShax 9 years
Actually most recent polls say that the majority of Americans no longer believe the invasion of Iraq was a good idea. And as someone who now works in Hollywood I am offended when I am called anti-American and anti-military because I am smart and well-read enough to form my own opinion of this particular war. All wars are not the same. I am saddened and troubled that people don't want to see movies that challenge their world views. What is the worst that could happen -- you could think about something???
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
I believe a major reason Iraq war films do not do well is that they all seem to represent the Hollywood "anti-war" point of view. put the worse possible spin on the war, and especially the government. This doesn't represent the population, overall. So, people vote with their dollars. Hollywood doesn't care, they have money and strongly-held opinions, so they just keep on making movies that no one (here, at least) wants to see.
ESPNgirl ESPNgirl 9 years
I have read some reviews of this and one critic went as far to say that if Joseph Gordon-Levitt had been in Philippe's role, the film would have been considerably improved. Ouch. I want to see it because I think Gordon-Levitt is one of the best actors of his generation. I'm glad to hear he was remarkable in it, although other critics say his talent was wasted in this film. I think he clearly didn't get the stand-out lead because his name doesn't hold the same amount of weight Ryan's does (though I believe he is far more talented). Thanks for the information, Buzz. I will see it, but for JGL's performance only.
LaurenG22 LaurenG22 9 years
My husband is an Army officer and he said the same exact thing, Sweet Peas Mom :) I would see it purely because I love a man in uniform and these men are pretty nice to look at ;) hahahaha
sarah_bellum sarah_bellum 9 years
"I think the movie does a great job of creating a dialogue about how we view service in this country." I won't be seeing it, but I hope this is true. It would be nice for people to finally understand that the vast majority of men and women who CHOOSE to wear a uniform are not doing it because they were lied and manipulated into doing it, or because they are too poor or stupid to do anything else.
BShax BShax 9 years
The theme of the movie is really that the soldiers Pierce is looking at have the utmost respect for their army and their country and they feel disrespected when they are lied to; those lies lessen the strength of our military by demoralizing our men and women in uniform. I think the movie does a great job of creating a dialogue about how we view service in this country. I saw it with three guys, all of whom have served, and we spent an hour talking about expectations, honor, country and service. None of them felt she was a liberal propagandizer. And as someone from that kind of community, she got it all right.
JennaV JennaV 9 years
I think this looks very interesting! I also took sides and think Ryan is a douche :P BUT I still think I want to see this.
Entertainment Entertainment 9 years
Huh, that's interesting. Of course, I don't think you should see the movie if you're not interested in it, though if it helps, the movie doesn't make soldiers look dumb at all. In fact, it does the opposite, in my opinion.
Jesstagirl Jesstagirl 9 years
My boyfriend is in the military, and he said something along those same lines, SweetPea. He said that everyone knows what they're getting into when they sign. I won't see it.
SweetPeasMom SweetPeasMom 9 years
My friend (another military wife) and I were talking about the ads for this movie last night, and about how Ryan's character says something about fulfilling his contract, and he wants the army to do the same thing... well, stop loss is in the contract... We were both just annoyed that the movie (at least in the ads) make it look like the stop loss is such a surprise to a soldier, like it just comes out of nowhere and without warning. She said it makes it look like soldiers are too dumb to read a contract, which offends her. But honestly, I won't go see the movie, and never intended to, because of Reese and Ryan and their split. I know, that's dumb, but I'm on a celebrity gossip site, I read about the stuff behind the scenes, the rumors and such, and I take sides. :P
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