Directed by: Kimberly Peirce
Premise: A soldier (Ryan Phillippe) about to be discharged from the Marine Corps is “stop-lossed” back into service. Feeling betrayed, he runs away and considers fleeing the country while weighing his commitment to the military.
What Works: Stop Loss is an attempt to sketch the postwar experience for veterans of the Iraq war and the relationship between the soldiers and the community they have returned to. The story centers on Brandon, a soldier who has been caught in stop loss, or “back door draft” as it is sometimes called, in which soldiers are forced into continuing their service after their initial commitment has passed. In the supporting characters, the film also deals with post-traumatic stress disorder, physical disabilities from war wounds, visits to surviving families of dead soldiers, chemical dependency, and the difficulty transitioning out of combat mode and into civilian life. Of the supporting performances, two that stand out are Victor Rasuk as a disabled veteran in high spirits and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a soldier struggling with alcoholism. The two performances capture very different elements of men coping with external and internal scars and they are some of the most engaging and heartbreaking performances of the film. As an attempt to sketch the postwar experience, Stop Loss does a fairly good job, capturing the breadth of challenges and problems for these men and conveying the abrupt change that they experience, waking up in Iraq and ending the day back in their hometown.
What Doesn’t: In its attempt to spread the points and capture the challenges of postwar life, the film looses a lot of the depth in these storylines. Stop Loss seems to be missing something, as though portions of the story have been cut out. The editing of the film is very jarring but not in a way that aids the storytelling or the style. The transitions between scenes are rough and snap the viewer out of the film. A lot of events happen with little buildup, especially Brandon’s insubordination and his decision to go AWOL. It is inconsistent with the character seen earlier in the film leading men into combat and following orders without question. The lack of depth hurts even more as the film reaches its conclusion. The resolution to the story makes very little sense because the events leading up to it are not guiding the character or the audience toward some epiphany about himself or about the world.
Bottom Line: Stop Loss is not In the Valley of Elah, but it is better than many of the other Iraq-related films to come out in the past year and a half. The film aims too broadly and comes up shallow although it does have a few solid performances.
Episode: #187 (April 27, 2008)