STUDIO: Paramount / MTV
MSRP: $16.99
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes

Commentary by director Kimberly Peirce and
    co-writer Mark Richard
The Making of Stop-Loss
A Day at Boot Camp
Deleted Scenes

The Pitch

Army: Be all you can be…and for a hell of a lot longer than you expected.

The Humans

Ryan Phillippe, Abbie Cornish, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rob Brown, Channing Tatum, Timothy Olyphant, Victor Rasuk, Ciaran Hinds, Linda Edmond.

The Nutshell

After tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter of which resulted in a final mission which saw the death of several of his men in an ambush, SSgt. Brandon King (Phillippe) is looking forward to completing his service and resuming his civilian life. However, on the day he’s supposed to be discharged, he finds that the Army has invoked its controversial “stop-loss” policy to keep him in the service and ship him straight back to Iraq. Feeling that he has done his service and unable to accept another tour, King goes AWOL in an attempt to contact a U.S. Senator for help.  He embarks on a road trip with his friend and fellow soldier, Steve’s (Tatum) fiancee, Michelle (Cornish).  Along the way, he has to reevaluate his decision and decide whether to try to fight the stop-loss policy, accept it and go back to Iraq, or be on the run for the rest of his life.  

“Join the military, travel to far, exotic places, meet new and interesting people…and kill them.  Works for me…”

The Lowdown

Stop-Loss is a direct commentary on the Army’s controversial policy, addressing just how much a soldier is expected to give of himself and how it affects them and their communities.  The whole thing centers on, in an era of an entirely volunteer armed forces, the Army’s prerogative to invoke a clause in the the contract that all service people sign that allows the Army to hold them into service for an indeterminate period in a time of war or armed conflict.  It’s being invoked more and more as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to rage on in their fifth and seventh years respectively, and with diminishing numbers of Americans enlisting for fear of being directly sent into these wars.  Soldiers who try to fight the policy have very few choices if the Military seeks to use it against them.  They can either file a lawsuit, which, to date, hasn’t been very effective if at all, or they can become fugitives. 

I would make a Bush Administration joke here, but it’s just too easy…

It’s not difficult to see what side of the issue director Kimberly Peirce is on, as we follow SSgt. Brandon King on his mini-odyssey to avoid another tour in Iraq, which, emotionally, he is ill-equipped to handle.  The stop-loss is portrayed as a “backdoor draft” (a direct quote) and being wrong all the way around.  We see the hardships that are awaiting King if he continues to be AWOL from his redeployment.  He encounters another soldier who’s been on the run for 14 months, essentially a hunted man, who’s unable to get a job, cash a check nor seek medical aid for his family.  His only option was to eventually flee to Canada.

“Uh Hi, Command? Sarge here.  I was wondering, if wouldn’t be too much trouble, if maybe we could get a little teeny weeny evac happening here.  No, nothing major, half of the unit is dead, the other half is blown to shit…body parts, blood, shrapnel…you know the drill.  Sure, I’ll hold…”

As for the film itself, it’s pretty successful in establishing its case against this policy, but it’s at the cost of logic in the story itself.  The narrative doesn’t really grab you as other movies have, considering some of the boneheaded choices the lead character makes.  For instance, the main storyline, that of King running across country after violating orders and assaulting military personnel to see a senator he met at his welcome home ceremony is dubious at best.  After making a point to get out of Texas as fast as he can, he keeps sidetracking to see the family of a KIA soldier and another soldier who’s been horribly disfigured and blinded by an enemy RPG.  In this case, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, which is plagued with a cliche or two and ultimately takes King nowhere fast despite all the traveling he does. 

“See Ryan, I tried to tell you not to get in the middle of that whole Clint Eastwood / Spike Lee thing.  But did you listen to me?  Nope…”

The sub-stories of another soldier, Tommy’s (Gordon-Levitt) self destruction from alcoholism and Steve’s wrestling with whether or not to re-enlist and post-traumatic stress issues aren’t much more compelling.  The performances, especially by Phillippe, are average at best, with no one really jumping out at you.  Timothy Olyphant is putting in an appearance as Lt. Col. Boot Miller, a role completely beneath his ability.  I continue to be on the fence regarding Phillippe.  I think that he’s capable of good performances, and I see flashes of it at times in other roles, but I’ve still yet to see that signature role that elevates him above the pretty boy status he’s seemingly always in danger of falling back into (although admittedly I haven’t seen Gosford Park nor Flags of Our Fathers, so I can’t attest to those). 

“Before we begin our set, I just wanted to remind everyone that any requests for June Carter Cash songs with be met with fists…”

Stop-Loss seems more concerned with hammering home its war message rather than let it come across naturally through a good story.  Surprisingly, this is the first film Kimberly Peirce has had in theatres since Boys Don’t Cry in 1999.  She definitely has things to say, first in hate crimes and now with military policy.  However, from what I remember, Boys Don’t Cry was carried more by Hilary Swank’s and Chloe Sevigny’s amazing performances rather than anything else.  Peirce’s opening action footage in Iraq is pretty good, but the film’s second act just doesn’t hold water the way it needs to.  I think that if Peirce doesn’t learn how to really put her stamp on a film, it may be another nine years before we see her work again.

“Struggle all you want, but we’re still watching ’24 hours of 54‘ on Bravo an that’s all there is to it…”

The Package

The transfer of the film looks good and it’s given in 5.1 Dolby which is fine also.  There are also French and Spanish language tracks available, along with similar subtitles.  There’s a commentary by Peirce and co-writer Mark Richard.  There’s also a pretty good production doc: The Making of Stop-Loss that runs about 20 minutes.  A Day in Boot Camp is a 10-minute making of about the training the actors went through to prepare for the movie that’s also not bad.  18 minutes of deleted scenes and previews, including the Star Trek teaser round out the offerings.

“So now you’ve gone AWOL, you’re a hunted fugitive and your only chance is to get across the border to Mexico.  So what are your plans?”

“I’m supposed to meet some guy named Chigurh who’ll take care of me…”

5.6 out of 10