“What the hell happened to these guys?”
These are the concerned words of Michelle (Abbie Cornish) that appear around the half way point of the Stop-Loss, the new film by Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce. Michelle’s worried words come as a result of the alarming incidents by the American soldiers returning from Iraq to their small base town in Texas. War happened to these guys, and its resulting effects on these soldiers lie at the center of this earnest film.
The film’s title suggests that the film is more of an in-depth analysis of the practice of stop-loss, which is when a soldier is suppose to be discharged from the military, but instead are told they must return for at least one more tour of duty. However, the stop-loss of the film’s protagonist is merely a MacGuffin, creating the event that allows for the study of these damaged characters.
Being stop-lossed inspires Brandon King (Ryan Phillipe) to drive from Texas to Washington D.C. in search of a certain Senator, who Brandon believes can help with his current problem. Along the way Brandon visits the family of a deceased soldier nicknamed Preacher, who served under Brandon during the war. Brandon also visits Rico Rodriquez, another soldier who was in his unit back in Iraq. Rico is still alive but has lost a leg and an arm, and large amount of his skin has been scarred. The battle that claimed Preacher’s life and most Ricardo’s body was led by Brandon, and is shown in the beginning of the film. This battle is surprisingly intense and arguably one of the most realistic gun battles to appear on screen in recent memory. Obviously Brandon feels a large amount of guilt for what happened to these men. Both scenes are emotionally poignant and shot with the perfect amount of discipline. Peirce doesn’t rely heavily on sobbing close ups or over the top dramatic music. The audience is simply watches Brandon as he confronts two of his most painful memories, a confrontation that being stop-lossed caused to happen sooner, if at all, for Brandon.
Brandon’s companion for the journey is Michelle, the fiancée of Brandon’s fellow soldier and best friend Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum). Michelle’s willingness to go with Brandon might have to do with Steve’s own recent incidents since returning home. On Steve’s first night home he attempted to dig his own sleeping quarters in the front yard, as if he was back in the war, the amount of alcohol consumed by Steve earlier in the day most likely had a large part in this strange act. However, it is the character of Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who strongly looks to alcohol to help him deal with the fallout of returning back to America. Tommy takes to drunk driving and various other alcohol induced acts, as he simply cannot handle all his various emotions.
Through most of the Stop-Loss, the audience observes sympathetically as these soldiers try to adjust to life back home. The film’s characters experience many emotional and sometimes violent outbursts, including a fistfight in a cementary, when the time for words has run out for Steve and Brandon. As you can see these men are not all right, and who knows if they will be ever be at peace again, certainly not them. A stop-loss may kick off the film, and a statistical quote about the controversial practice may accompany the ending credits. However, the majority of Stop-Loss is comprosed of poignant scenes in which the film’s characters unsuccessfully try to bumble around as their former selfs.
The key cast members of Stop-Loss are fairly young, with the oldest being Mr. Phillippe at age 33. Which may help explain MTV’s involvement in the film, which is usually not concerned with characters studies but rather breezy comedies. While most of these actors are still in their twenties, they are able exhibit the necessary maturity in their performances. Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Tommy is the third lead, but is equally if not more impressive than the other two male leads. The baby-faced actor is able to transform himself into a soldier trying to unsuccessfully hold all of his pain inside of him. Due to the quality of Joseph Gordon’s Levitt’s performance, you never question Tommy’s quiet torment.
As part of her research for the film Ms. Peirce interviewed many current soldiers, obtaining over a hundred hours of footage. Ms. Peirce’s interaction with these soldiers has obviously caused her to care very deeply for these people; this affection is evident with the very real and endearing characters she has created in Stop-Loss.
One cannot go to war and participate in combat and not change, regardless of the circumstance, a part of your humanity will be altered forever. Ms. Peirce wants to show just how of high of a price that these current soldiers are paying for their country. Stop-Loss may contain a few war clichés and some less than fresh dialogue at times, However, it is still a strong film, full of heart, and definitely one that should be experienced.
PS: A video review has been shot for Stop-Loss and will be up very shortly.