Decorated Iraq war hero Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) makes a celebrated return to his small Texas hometown following his tour of duty. He tries to resume the life he left behind with the help and support of his family and his best friend, Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), who served with him in Iraq. Along with their other war buddies, Brandon and Steve try to make peace with civilian life. Then, against Brandon’s will, the Army orders him back to duty in Iraq, which upends his world. The conflict tests everything he believes in: the bond of family, the loyalty of friendship, the limits of love and the value of honor.
Stop-Loss is a film about young soldiers in the current Gulf War who have finished their tour of duty and return home to their old life of drinking, fighting, and shouting in poorly emulated Southern accents. Memories of the fighting and death they saw in Iraq haunt them, and they all have trouble returning to a ‘normal’ life. Unfortunately for Brandon King (Ryan Phillipe), he receives a stop-loss notice from the army and can’t deal with going back to Iraq again. Angry that the Army has broken their contract with him, he decides to go AWOL, and his best friend’s fiance Michelle (Abbie Cornish) offers to help.
Typically with any movie produced by MTV Films, you can expect to have some sort of nauseating, shaky camera experience. The cinematographer, who’s ‘with it’ and ‘hip’ and ‘needs a beating’, decides that kids these days want to see a quick series of dramatic images with bizarre camera angles and zoom levels while an exceptionally fast-paced, hard-beat song is playing in the background. While there were a few sequences where this occurred in Stop-Loss, for the most part the movie was shot normally and it was easy to forget that MTV produced it. With a very dramatic opening scene that takes place in Tikrit, Iraq, the viewer is immediately drawn into the film as we see the main cast brought under fire in a narrow alley. We see some of the most horrific scenes in the movie, which makes it easier to empathize with the partial breakdowns that the soldiers experience when they return home. Once the soldiers do return home, however, there isn’t much action left. The story instead concentrates on the plight of a soldier who has been stop-lossed, and how he is struggling with the conflicted emotions of indignation and his sense of duty.
Since the film starts off with such high action, the rest of the movie essentially leaves the viewer waiting for more all the way until the end. It’s not certain whether or not the movie was meant to be an action flick, considering there was very little action after the opening scene. Despite this identity crisis and the MTV label, the film actually presents some decent acting and realistic dialogue (albeit simplistic). While none of the actors exude a broad range of emotions, it fits the simple, guarded, rural mentality that these men have.
The worst thing about the movie overall was its plot jumping. There are clearly some holes in the film that leave us wondering why the next scene was so disjointed from the last (especially during Brandon and Michelle’s trip) although this is better explained by watching the deleted scenes; which portray practically a different plotline completely. Despite this, Stop-Loss is a simple and straightforward way to shed light on this controversial practice in the U.S. military and give a glimpse of what exactly the mostly very young soldiers in Iraq are dealing with. Not only that, but also in a way that the general public can relate to.
Review by Nicolas Bunzmann