In Stop-Loss, Ryan Phillippe stars as as a soldier who has returned from Iraq, only to find that the U.S. government has "broken his contract" and decided to send him back for yet another tour. Unwilling to return, he goes AWOL and sets off a series of events that put friends, family and himself in a precarious position.
Phillippe turns in a good and believable performance as SSgt. Brandon King. While some of his fellow soldiers and lifelong friends have either returned as mentally disturbed or still patriotically blind, King has become disillusioned with the war, having killed several civilians why over in Iraq. More importantly, though, he feels that he has put in his fair share of the effort, and that the government is not holding up their end of the bargain. Phillippe relays such a character quite well. He's always gotten a bad rap for his acting abilities, but he does the understated characters with ease. He's not going to win any awards for the performance, but Phillippe is a pretty good choice for the role.
Abbie Cornish does a good job as Phillippe's partner in crime and almost-love interest.
Beyond the performances, Stop-Loss is a surprisingly decent film. Its message isn't very subtle and overall is pretty predictable, but director Kimberly Peirce has created a pretty entertaining movie. Those worried about the fact that this is an MTV-produced film should rest at ease, as Peirce avoids the glossy, music video look and instead goes with a gritty, rustic look that fits the screenplay perfectly. Even her use of modern music - the one MTV-esque aspect of the film - plays well into the production. And actually, the theme song made for a killer movie trailer, too.
Still, Stop-Loss does suffer at times. Once King goes AWOL, Peirce and co-writer Mark Richard don't quite what to do. It's as if they thought of a good concept with a clear anti-war statement but didn't quite know how to fill in the gaps. For the most part, they pull it off, but Phillippe gets into one too many scrapes to be completely believable. The movie is also littered with the typical soldier friends, from the blindly patriotic (Channing Tatum) to the psychologically scarred (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). They also work themselves into a hole with Cornish's character, as the romantic angle is a little tough considering that she's his best friend's wife.
Stop-Loss has its flaws, but overall it's an enjoyable and well-done picture, with good acting. Recommended to all you liberals out there.
Review by Robert Bell (C+)
When two affluent megalomaniacs come together as a union, it is imperative that they breed and create a smaller power-hungry version of themselves. They can place the child in private schools, teaching them superiority and entitlement; fostering an ideology that deems personal success paramount over empathy and identification. These children grow up to demonstrate relentless self determination, which mixed with the endless financial resources of their sires, lead to our nation's ambition-riddled leaders; men who make decisions that affect millions without an emotional framework or the intuitive nature to identify with, or understand the implications, of their single-minded actions. Led by passive-aggressive, pissing-contest global tendencies, glassy-eyed political leaders dictate the fates of the many followers who know no better; those who genuinely struggle for independent thought outside of prescribed beliefs. Indeed, this is a culture assembled by emotionally retarded men who snort cocaine off of the fake plastic boobs of Vegas hookers. Perhaps this is a vast generalization; but more than likely not.
Stop-Loss examines the impacts of war on readily exploitable soldiers; forced to act out of obligation and ignorance, rather than unique ideologies. While some insight is shed on the nature of systemic folly, a great deal of contrivance and bizarre character motivations are revealed on the journey. This is a film that appears hesitant to expose its true agenda, settling for facile views of problematic politics that create disenchanted but patriotically-correct loyalty.
Led by homegrown/meat-and-potato Brandon (Ryan Phillippe), a unit nearing the end of the Iraq tour spends their downtime horsing around, videotaping their antics and gleefully singing patriotic-southern-country-BS, which acts to muddy shades of black & white around the films anti/pro-war intentions. This downtime is juxtaposed with a visceral white-knuckle ambush that leaves a trail of dead and wounded soldiers.
Cut to Brandon's ride home to Texas with sharpshooting bud Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) and the visibly unstable Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), where the gang is warned by Lt. Miller (Timothy Olyphant) not to beat up civilians or screw underage girls. They are met in Texas to a rowdy welcome home party, with an admittedly did-ya-shoot-em-all-good-n-dead dynamic. It isn't long before Tommy is starting fights with people and Steve is freaking out his suspiciously masculine girlfriend Michelle (Abbie Cornish) by digging a trench on her front lawn in his underwear. Brandon acts as the fulcrum of the group imbuing reason and accountability on all; that is, until he is stop-lossed.
The purple-hearted golden-boy quickly turns from saintly American hero to a pissed off renegade lawbreaker with a F**k the president attitude, as he rides cross country with his buds and empathic filly Michelle, to find a senator who will right his perceived wronging.
This rapid character shift and subsequent quest act as the main areas of contrivance in the film. Road trip clichés abound as the loyalty torn Brandon encounters drama exposing car thieves, other stop-lossed soldiers on the run and fetishistically filmed war amputees. They all act as ciphers for Brandon's inner-turmoil, as does the underwritten Michelle, who essentially sits around taking his crap throughout the film. While some insights are shed and compassion acknowledged for the after effects of war on Brandon, Phillippe handles the material with only minor effect, struggling to give his character a great deal of dimension. Cornish and Levitt on the other hand, bring quite a bit of depth to their poorly written characters, standing out as stars of the near future.
Peirce's direction is professional, if as similarly standoffish as the overall message. Handheld approach is used appropriately, as are emotional close-ups and war footage integration. This works from a visual perspective, but leaves the distinct aftertaste of risks not taken. For such touchy subject matter, everything feels somewhat safe.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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