Stop-Loss
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum (7th August 2008).
The Film

This is the latest in a series of recent films illustrating the extreme opposition that most Americans, including ones enlisted in the military, have to the war in Iraq. When the majority of the nation woke up to the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, and that President Bush used those heinous and evil attacks as an excuse to launch an equally heinous and illegal attack on a nation that had shown no aggression towards the United States, popular support for the war diminished considerably.

It is a small consolation that if nothing else, people are making films about this war, and none of them treat it as being a just or nescessary conflict. No one has yet directly shot a film about the large-scale criminal injustice of this war, but so far there have been a handful of movies dealing with the effects on a more personal level. "Day Zero" (2007) imagined the possible outcome on three men's lives if a draft were reinstated, and now, "Stop-Loss" looks at a single man's life ripped apart when he is called back to Iraq on the very day that he was due to be discharged from the army. Ryan Philippe is Brandon King, a Texas guy with good leadership skills, a caring family, and a strong sense of morality. While on leave from Iraq after a particularly difficult mission (during which some of his squad members are killed), he gets the bad news. Brandon has a relatively good head on his shoulders, but he has been traumatized by his tour of duty (the audience can see this, but none of the other characters can), and he has no intention of going back to the desert.

So, Brandon goes AWOL and becomes a fugitive. He goes on the run, naively thinking that if he travels from Texas to Washington to see a senator that he met once, everything will get sorted out. With his best friend's girlfriend in tow (it is platonic; she is trying to help) Brandon makes a long series of bad choices, getting himself into ever deeper trouble. His stance is firm: he believes that he has fulfilled his commitment to his nation, and that his being called back to duty is an illegal action on the part of the government. He is correct in this ascertation, but the question is how far he will go, and how much trouble he will allow himself to get into in the name of proving his point and insisting on his freedom.

Meanwhile, his sanity is slowly eroding; he hears gunfire in his ears, and has delusions that he is back in the war. His hallucinations are getting worse, and it is clear he is not fit for another tour of duty.

In the end, he is faced with fleeing to Mexico and never seeing any of his family or friends (or America) ever again, or sacrificing his beliefs, and risking his life to fight a war that he does not believe in. He would have to kill more innocent Iraqis (he has the blood of children on his hands already), lead his men into further slaughters, and risk being maimed. Either way, he is screwed.

"Stop-Loss" is an uncompromising film that portrays a group of soldiers on leave from their duty in Iraq. In various ways, every one of these men is falling apart, and not one of them has come back from their mission in the Middle East unscathed. Although many of the characters in the film are proud of their career as soldiers and are too brainwashed to doubt the corrupt government that sent them overseas to die for nothing, the film itself makes it clear that no good has come of the war in Iraq, and that the people sent to fight this war are among the most tragic victims of this miserable conflict.

The acting is honest and powerful, while the editing effectively drives home Brandon's war flashbacks. Cameos and small roles are handled by real veterans of the current war, creating a sense of pathos that no actor could ever bring to a role. That said, my main issue with the film is that with the possible exception of Brandon, none of the lead characters are particularly likable people. I found it hard to care about their often tragic fates since most of them are kind of meatheads anyway. In the end, we see that Brandon has made his choice, but the film might have been more effective if the last scene were timmed off; ending things with him struggling and with the audience not knowing which descision he made might have been a lot more powerful.

Video

The aspect ratio is 1.85:1 and is 16x9, enhanced for widescreen televisions. Running time is 1:51:56. For the most part the camerawork is nothing special, but the transfer is clean. I noticed a bit of a greenish cast to the film, but this may have been an artistic choice.

Audio

"Stop-Loss" is presented in English, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in the same three languages. The rear speakers are well-utilized in the action scenes, surrounding the viewer with the sounds of combat. These same sounds are brought back into the mix during Brandon's delusions and flashbacks with reverberation setting them deeper into the mix. The score is perfunctory and bland. A few of the Texan accents seem forced, but overall the sound mix has been handled well.

Extras

Paramount has released this film with an audio commentary, a series of two featurettes, eleven deleted scenes and some bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is an audio commentary with writer/director Kimberly Peirce and co-writer Mark Richard. They discuss how they were inspired by 'home' movies made by real soldiers who had captured their Iraq experiences on video. The conversation between the writer and director is lively and there are few gaps. Worth a listen.

"The Making of Stop-Loss" featurette runs for 20 minutes 57 seconds; director Peirce discusses her inspiration for making the film, which began with her brother going to Iraq. From there the feature goes on to show the casting and behind the scenes footage. Fairly standard featurette.

"A Day in Boot Camp" featurette runs for 10 minutes 2 seconds; This feature shows the actors preparing for their roles as soldiers by attending a real boot camp in Austin, Texas, and bonding with the real soldiers that participated in the filming.

11 deleted scenes follow and includes optional audio commentary with writer/director Kimberly Peirce in which she describes the meaning of the scenes and why they were cut. The scenes included are:

- "Hometown Cooking" runs for 2 minutes 30 seconds; Brandon leaves a girl's house and goes to get some food.
- "Roy King and Son" runs for 2 minutes 23 seconds; Brandon works at his father's truck stop.
- "Leaving the Base" runs for 1 minute 4 seconds; Brandon grabs a Jeep and leaves the Army base.
- "Need a Ride to Austin" runs for 1 minute 42 seconds; Shorty agrees to drive Michelle to Austin.
- "Dropping Shorty Off" runs for 1 minute 5 seconds; Shorty gets stranded when the others have to leave in a hurry.
- "Michelle Offers to Drive" runs for 1 minute 38 seconds; Brandon changes his clothes in the car while being confronted by Michelle
- "Veteran's Support Network" runs for 2 minutes 23 seconds; Brandon tries to check in at a veteran's hostel.
- "Check Out" runs for 32 seconds; Brendan and Michelle skip out on a motel.
- "D.C. Visit" runs for 1 minute 5 seconds; Brendan and Michelle talk to a senator's assistant in Washington D.C.
- "Senator Worrell" runs for 2 minutes 19 seconds; Brendan finally confronts senator Worrell.
- "Beach" runs for 1 minute 55 seconds; Brendan and Michelle have a conversation on a beach.

Rounding out the extras are a series of bonus trailers for:

- "American Teen" which runs for 2 minutes 45 seconds.
- "The Ruins" which runs for 1 minute 3 seconds.
- "Star Trek" which runs for 1 minute 10 seconds.
- "Iron Man" which runs for 2 minutes 46 seconds.
- "Shine A Light" which runs for 2 minutes 34 seconds.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: B Audio: B+ Extras: A- Overall: B+

 


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