Film: Stop Loss

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From CM Life:

“Stop Loss” is an unexpected film to be produced by MTV Films.  Rather than fluffy escapist entertainment, the movie is a dead-serious meditation on real-world issues concerning the current war in Iraq.

Ryan Phillippe stars as Brandon King, a decorated Army staff sergeant who lead his troops through two tours in the Middle East.

After coming back from a tour of Iraq that included a particularly traumatic firefight that left several of King’s men dead and another horribly disfigured, King and his best friend Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) are to be honorably discharged from service.

On the supposed day of discharge, King is informed that he has been “stop lossed,” and will be shipped back out to Iraq in several weeks’ time. Feeling he has already fulfilled his contractual obligation to the Army, only to find that nobody cares about giving him the life he feels he earns.

Desperate to have his life for his own, King goes AWOL and travels the country with his best friend Steve’s fiancée Michelle (Abbie Cornish). They go from Texas to New York, trying to find some way to keep King from being shipped out on the unjust stop loss.

Along the way they visit the family of one of King’s fallen comrades, and another former soldier in a veteran’s hospital.

Throughout their journey, King sees that the lives of the people who have served in this war are torn apart irreparably, no matter the course of action they try to take, and that he won’t get his “normal” life no matter what course of action he takes.

What the movie does very well is present the terrors of war. There are certainly arguments made against the policies of the Army and government in this current Iraq conflict, but for the most part, the film is about war in general.

Soldiers are killed, maimed, or traumatized, families are torn apart, and loved ones are left behind, all for reasons that ultimately seem trivial. The film is a downer, but makes its points very well, and effectively instills the intended feelings within the audience.

As far as “Stop Loss” as a film goes, it’s a little bit of a mess. In the first half of the film, it jumps between traditionally-shot scenes and documentary-style handicam shots, without any real explanation for it.

The meat of the film, King and Michelle traversing the country searching for an answer, is a mess. They seem to just be muddling along without any real direction or goal, although one was clearly stated.

They visit Army buddies without any reason or explanation, and characters show up and leave more on the basis of being needed for a dialogue than any sort of logical or thematic reason.

There are many shots of the two principal characters driving down a highway, but never any indication of location or timeframe.

There will be a scene with the characters in one location, and the next scene they are in another location in another state, with no explanation between the two.

The subject matter is also somewhat misrepresented. The issue of a stop loss, as the film itself informs the audience, is one that 80 thousand soldiers have dealt with since 2001. With no specific explanation why of all those soldiers that were called back to Iraq, this one specific soldier is any different, or what is driving him as a character to stay at home.

It feels like it happens just because it is supposed to.

Despite its effective manipulation of emotions and hard-hitting representation, “Stop Loss” is ultimately an oversimplification of actual events, skewed to fit the filmmakers’ needs.

Anybody wanting to see a movie solely for entertainment value should stay away at all costs. Those who want to see a discussion of the issues surrounding the Iraq conflict may find this worthwhile, but the same arguments are handled more thoroughly and maturely in other movies and documentaries.

2 stars out of 5

Other recent reviews:

Drillbit Taylor: Fun but predictable, 2.5 stars out of five

Doomsday: Sloppy, gratuitous and pointless.  1 star out of five

Vantage Point: Supremely silly and illogical.  Well-executed dumb fun.  3 stars out of five

Definitely, Maybe: Surprising enough to myself, I leaned towards “Definitely.”  4 stars out of five.

I appreciate your feedback.  Tell me what you like, what you don’t like, what you’d like to see more of in my movie posts, or just let me know that you’re out there.  Comment below, e-mail me, or find me on Facebook.

“Call me, beep me if you wanna reach me,”

Brad Canze, the CM Life Movie Dude

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