This is a mediocre film, at best, from a director who should have exercised more control over her final product.
Stop-Lossis a breath of fresh air in the barrage of Iraq war films in that it remains relatively unbiased. I say “relatively” because, even though it has been painted as focusing only on the soldiers and not a didactic political message, there are plenty of passive comments that, when taken together, show the film as a left-leaning product.
The film’s main character is Sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) who, after his tour of duty, returns to his small town as a hero and role model. His best friend, Steve (Channing Tatum), has also returned home and is planning on getting married. On the day he is set to get out of the Army, he is told he is being deployed back to Iraq at the end of the month, a victim of the secretive stop-loss clause of his contract. This means he can be involuntarily reactivated at anytime by the order of the President of the United States. Brandon goes AWOL, enlisting Steve’s fiancée Michelle (Abbie Cornish) to drive him to Washington D.C. to talk to a U.S. Senator who he thinks can help him. Getting himself in deeper and deeper trouble, Brandon scrambles to figure out a way to avoid going back to Iraq, viewing it as certain death. This is a mediocre film, at best, from a director who should have exercised more control over her final product. Director and co-writer Kimberly Peirce (of Boys Don’t Cry fame) is simply trying to shove too much into the film and ends up glossing over some of the most intriguing ideas or themes. Her first feature film, which made her an icon, was a beautiful, well-paced film that valued the characters as much as the story. Here, viewers are being hit over the head too many times with the idea that stop-loss is unfair and we aren’t given the slow, methodical pace that the material deserves.
For example, one of Brandon’s men, Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in the film’s only noteworthy performance) is having such a hard time with all he’s been through that he repeatedly gets himself in trouble simply because he is no longer in control of himself. He has given his mind over entirely to the Army. So much more could have been shown about Tommy and what he is going through; instead, he is merely a sidebar whose story never fully develops.
The acting across the board is stilted and unconvincing, which is surprising considering the performances Peirce drew out of the actors of Boys Don’t Cry. Phillippe is forced to speak with the worst Texas accent ever heard in film, distracting from a performance that might have been decent. Cornish has no idea what to do with her character, and so she ends up looking likes she’s brooding at all times and talks only in her lower register. The most unpleasant performance is Tatum who at first seems charismatic, but as the material turns more serious he becomes laughable.
Stop-Lossis a good premise for a film that could have been excellent but turns out to be less than impressive. It will definitely start conversations amongst filmgoers, which a good film should, but only about the controversial law and not the merits of the film. | Matthew F. Newlin