Saturday, April 5, 2008


Over 80,000 U.S. soldiers have carried out their contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq, been told they were going home, and then suddenly, against their will, have been sent right back into the fight for an undisclosed amount of time. This issue of being stop-lost is becoming more prevalent as conflicts in the Middle East rage on, and not enough people enlist.

It’s been nine years since director Kimberly Peirce has made a feature, not since her strikingly bold debut of Boy’s Don’t Cry. When her brother enlisted in the military after 9/11, she found inspiration in a harsh reality that lies in the fine print of an Army contract.

Ryan Phillippe plays Brandon King, a soldier who has just come home from Iraq, only to find that he is, involuntarily, being sent back. Rejecting the idea, he treks cross country, in an attempt to resolve the issue and clear up the mistake.

The men who served with him remain in their Texas town, fighting deep internal struggles of post-traumatic stress disorder, not being able to let go of the dehumanizing images they’ve seen.
Peirce is fully capable of delivering shocking images that startle yet somehow move us, she proved that with Boy’s Don’t Cry. The problem with Stop-Loss is that it aims too high. Each character gives long-winded, heartfelt speeches that often don’t hit their mark. I’m not quite sure whose fault it is, because the words feel right, the camera is well placed, but some of the action is forced.

Phillippe (much better in Crash and Flags of Our Fathers) doesn’t seem half as committed as his character is to the idea of becoming free from war. Phillippe casts his melodramatic tendencies just a bit too much, making us a little bored. Channing Tatum plays Brandon’s best friend Steve. While Tatum delivers a decent supporting turn, he isn’t given much to do except be an imposing, male-dominant figure that we’ve seen him as before (and that he pulled off in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints). This kid has talent; he just needs the material to prove it.

That’s the bad, and if you look for it, you’ll find some good. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another soldier from their group who is having the most trouble forgetting what he saw. Gordon-Levitt’s descent into madness by diving head first into a bottle is raw, real and emotionally powerful. He has proved himself a God of independent film, giving stunning performances in Manic, Mysterious Skin, Brick and The Lookout. He steals the show in Stop-Loss, his face one of vengeful regret. I only wish he was given more screen time. This is one of the finest actors of his generation; he’ll be around for a long, long time.

Supporting turns by Australian actress Abbie Cornish (Candy), CiarĂ¡n Hinds (There Will Be Blood), and Timothy Olyphant do not go unnoticed, but they aren’t enough to keep the movie from its repetitiveness. Peirce manages to shock (a bloody war battle could be admired for its authenticity), but she cannot escape the unsympathetic trend that audiences simply aren’t connecting with these Iraq-war films.

For my money, I’d put Phillippe in a supporting role and let the whole film rest on Gordon-Levitt’s shoulders. He has carried movies before, and he has pulled it off each time. The film would have no problem hitting its emotional arch’s, if Gordon-Levitt was doing the screaming. B-


  1. 100% agreement. Of the post-war movies I mentioned the other day (Elah, Messenger), this is definitely the weakest. It's still good, but not as strong as the others.

    But then there is Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Is there another actor out there today picking projects better than he does? I feel like he appears in some blockbuster crap to get paid, and then goes and gets involved in films he really wants to do. I pay much more attention to directors than actors, but he is on a very small list worth paying attention to every time out the gate (Marion Cotillard is another).

    1. So glad we agree on JGL's career. So what, he does a few shit blockbusters to fund his indies...I can dig that. He's continuously picked such solid, steady roles - ah, I just really like his work.

      Marion is my favorite working actress, so we couldn't agree more there!

    2. JGL over the last decade or so...

      Small-Medium great movies (or at least he was great):
      Premium Rush
      (500) Days Of Summer
      The Lookout
      Mysterious Skin

      Big great movies (or at least he was great):
      Dark Knight Rises

      Show me the money:
      GI Joe

      Haven't seen yet:
      Elektra Luxx
      Women In Trouble
      Brothers Bloom (actually on today's viewing list)
      Miracle At St. Anna
      Latter Days

      That's a pretty darn good report card! Brick and The Lookout are the standouts for me, although I enjoyed the heck out of Premium Rush a couple weeks ago.

    3. (Oh, and Marion? Just keep giving her awards until someone can do something better. It'll be a while.)

    4. Damn fine report card indeed! Manic is my favorite. I love him in that. So goddamn raw and real and just... unleashed. I think he worked acting wonders there. Of the ones you haven't seen, I can't really recommend any of them. Killshot is... okay, but nothing special. Miracle at St. Anna is the worst film Spike Lee has ever made. Awful

      Marion: that's damn right!

  2. I went through them anyway (watched wouldn't be quite the right word - a lot of FF button involved). The only really interesting one in the group was Brothers Bloom, and JGL was just a cameo in that. The others were just... there. Still, JGL was good a lot more often than not, despite the overall film.

    I didn't dislike Miracle quite as much as you did. It wasn't bad exactly, just not edited down well enough, so it was too long and boring. Instead of the 2:40 it is, a 1:45 version would be a lot tighter and more interesting.

    1. I agree, of that bunch of films, they're just there. I'd be all for a shortened version of Miracle. I think you're right, that'd make for a better film.