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Stop Loss

2008-11-07 11:14
What it's about:

While serving in the Iraq War, Staff Sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) becomes disheartened by the conflict as he witnesses the violent deaths of friends and civilians. On their return home, he and his best friend Steve Shriver are decorated, but when Brandon chooses to leave the Army, Uncle Sam has other plans and imposes the stop-loss policy, forbidding him to leave the armed forces of his free will. Refusing to comply, Brandon goes on the run with Steve's fiancé Michelle (Abbie Cornish) as they take a road trip in search of help from a reluctant senator and make plans to escape to Canada, they meet other victims of the US government's unscrupulous treatment of the men and women who have served their country and are striving for a bit of peace in their own lives.

What we thought of it: Grim, graphic and gloomier than it looks, Stop Loss is the Deer Hunter for the MTV generation (just as well, as it is produced by MTV Films) that takes a contemptuous look at the war it's inherited from its scare-mongering elder statesmen. Ultimately, it’s the story of how the men and women who do right by their country while their country fails to do right by them. And despite the bevy of hot, young Hollywood talent on display, it's difficult viewing.

After watching his brothers-in-arms killed, dismembered and stripped of their humanity on the front lines, Brandon's decision to effectively 'dodge the draft' is as much born out of solidarity with the men he served with as out of a feeling that he is being screwed over by an all-encompassing system that doesn’t take no for an answer. This is an inner conflict that shows an earnest young man at war with his own heart, and his own country, rather than with the supposed enemy he is meant to be fighting in the Middle East.

Director Kimberley Peirce, who directed Hillary Swank to an Oscar as a cross-dresser in Boys Don't Cry, paints a devastating picture of youth and innocence lost. Brandon isn’t the only one wrecked by his war experiences – his best buddy Steve devolves into a drunken, violent Neanderthal, even punching his fiancé Michelle in the face, as he fails to adjust to life in their small Texas town. Mild-mannered Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon Levitt, in the movies' most poignant performance) comes back from the war broken and disillusioned, unable to connect with his wife or friends. Behind his tired, old eyes, the world has become a burden he must bear, the memory of his lost brothers an affront to his survival of hell.

Phillippe may finally shrug off his pretty boy tag with a nuanced performance that captures the rage and impotence of his one-man battle against a bureaucratic juggernaut that offers little in the way of victory any way it plays out.

Offering her support on this journey is Michelle, a woman caught between the man she loves and the man she admires. Australian actress Abbie Cornish is the movie's weakest link, playing Michelle as an unsophisticated, potato-faced blank slate whose facial expressions include permanently furrowed brows and an awkward half-smile that seems to giving the actress a certain amount of pain.

For all its heart-felt intent, Stop Loss suffers from painting itself into a corner. Brandon's fate, and that of his friends, seems pre-destined from the moment they set foot back on home soil and struggle to re-assimilate into their old lives. But Stop Loss excels at being an anti-war movie that also pays tribute to the troops while bringing to the fore one of the lesser-known injustices of the war machine.

- Shaheema Barodien

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A bevy of hot young Hollywood stars, including Ryan Phillippe, Tatum Channing and a potato-faced Abbie Cornish, fight the great American war machine in this heart-felt but grim anti-war drama.

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