I’m going to be honest. Going in to see this film, I was blissfully unaware of what the title Stop-Loss meant. I thought perhaps it was a strangely-worded political statement on the filmmaker’s position on the Iraq war. “Stop the loss” of our soldiers. “Stop the loss” of life. Looking back on it, the title can take on that connotation if you take away its proper definition. The term “stop-loss” is actually a military term that means a soldier has been called back into active duty after he or she has been scheduled to end their term in the service. This issue is the basis of the film, directed by Kimberly Peirce, and brings the injustice of this policy to light. It’s enough to make the film worthwhile and it may just also serve as an anti-recruiting measure for our army.
After his tour of duty in Iraq, Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) returns home to a parade, a coronation, and the promise of never having to return to war again. He and the friends from his squadron, Steve, Tommy, and Isaac, are most interested in putting it all behind them and getting drunk off their asses their first night back in Texas. Almost immediately, it’s clear these soldiers are going to have a hard time adjusting. The first night back, Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) gets into a brawl with a guy at a bar, Steve (Channing Tatum) begins abusing his girlfriend, and the two end up drunk as skunks with Tommy’s wife kicking him out of the house while Steve digs a foxhole in his front yard and curls up inside it with a gun. The next day, Brandon receives notice he’s been stop-lossed. Lt. Col. Boot has Brandon escorted to the stockade after he defied orders, and that’s when he decides he would rather go AWOL than go back to Iraq.
Tommy’s girlfriend, Michelle (Abbie Cornish), volunteers to drive Brandon over the state line to escape the statewide APB put out on him. The majority of the film follows Brandon and Michelle’s run from the government and the internal conflict that followed after he turned his back on his friend, family, and country. His only choice to avoid being redeployed is to cross into Canada or Mexico and give up the life he’s known.
This isn’t a particularly memorable movie. Ryan Phillippe reprises his role as a soldier and is suitably honorable with just enough likeability in this role, though the writers could have done so much more with the development of his character. If you’ve known a soldier or have seen a single war movie within the last ten years, the inner conflicts of Brandon are unsurprising and uninspired. The film touches on the changes in the men after they return from the war, but the examples are clichéd and almost expected. A recent and much better example of the impact war does to soldiers can be found in the underrated film from last year, In the Valley of Elah.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a bad movie, because more than once I cringed for certain characters when put into embarrassing or shameful situations. Overall, the acting is fine, and there are no glaringly bad performances to make you wince. There’s just not a lot to hold onto here. The film keeps us at bay from getting too deep into the characters; the small glimpse we see of Brandon as a Texan who achingly missed his hometown is truncated, leaving us wanting more. That’s my main problem with this film—I felt needy by the end of it, like somehow I’d been cheated out of the time I’d spent with these characters.
Is it better to save yourself, or stay in the good graces of others? Whether or not you agree with the ending, it succeeds in raising awareness of the stop-loss problem our soldiers are facing today. Stop-Loss offers a look at these brave men and women and shows us how much they sacrifice. It also makes you shake your head as to what is the purpose of this particular war.
Now playing at select movies theaters in Champaign and Savoy
Runtime: 1h 53min — Rated R — Drama/War