‘Stop-Loss’ depicts soldiers facing redeployment
To say that marketing a film about the Iraq or Afghanistan wars is a tough sell would be an understatement. Sort of like saying that the ACLU and Republican Party aren’t on the same page.
Hollywood hasn’t had much success at the box office with pictures such as “Redacted,” “In the Valley of Elah,” “Lions for Lambs,” “Rendition” and even John Cusack’s “Grace Is Gone.” Although most received critical praise and caused people to debate about the war (which any good movie should do), getting the masses to see a film about something that is in the news daily is tough to do.
Most people, I think, want to escape the horrors of the world and see something that doesn’t mirror real news. Not all, mind you, but if you look at recent box-office hits, the consensus is that movies that aren’t so heavy seem to be doing the best business.
It’s easy to see why people don’t want to see what Hollywood has to offer when it comes to the war in the Middle East – most believing that liberal Hollywood (for the most part) just wants to take our money and cram down our throats their leftist point of view. To paint filmmakers who tackle the sensitive subject matter of war with one broad stroke is grossly unfair, and each film deserves to be judged on its own merit.
With that said, director Kimberly Peirce (her “Boys Don’t Cry” garnered an Oscar for Hilary Swank in 1999) has crafted a piece of work that not only will have you talking about the film and questioning the definition of patriotism, but also questioning the motivations of our government and the loopholes those in charge always seem to create. “Stop-Loss” is about the war, yes, but more important, it’s a look into the lives of several soldiers serving their country and sacrificing their lives because of what they believe in. They do their job and put in their time, which is the crux of the story.
Ryan Phillippe turns in an explosive performance as squadron leader Sgt. Brandon King, who, along with his childhood bud, Sgt. Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), return home to a hero’s welcome after serving their country overseas. The transition back to a civilian way of life is not an easy one for them or their comrades. They struggle trying to cope with flashbacks, nightmares and uncontrolled anger, trying to readjust to American society after coming back from hell. Brandon’s parents (Linda Emond and Ciarán Hinds) are very supportive, as is Michele (Abbie Cornish), Steve’s fiancée, who is like a sister to Brandon. Just as he’s trying to adjust to a normal way of life, the Army invokes a measure called “stop-loss” on Brandon, ordering him back to Iraq and extending his enlistment.
Whatever your views on the war, you can’t help but feel for those who have done their time and now are ordered to return. Yes, contractually those serving are supposed to be informed about this clause that was created by Congress after the Vietnam War and first put into use during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990 under the first President Bush. The clause is put into effect when the United States government deems it necessary. Those who join the military agree to this provision under Paragraph 9c of the enlistment contract, which states: “In the event of war, my enlistment in the Armed Forces continues until six (6) months after the war ends, unless my enlistment is ended sooner by the President of the United States.”
A soldier can be sent back for a second or third tour of duty, even though they’ve completed their enlistment and want to return to civilian life. Brandon has no intention of returning to Iraq and, with the help of Michele, plans on deserting rather than being shipped back overseas. The odds of coming home unscathed at all is rare, let alone injured, so you find yourself in their shoes, learning that it’s a numbers game. The more you’re sent back, the greater the odds you’ll be disabled or killed in action.
No one doubts a soldier’s patriotism or the honor that goes with serving, but the movie does raise some interesting points about one’s loyalty to country, the family’s honor and the conflict within oneself and, ultimately, dishonor at the thought of desertion within the military. And before you dismiss the director as yet another left-wing Hollywood type bashing the Bush administration, think again. Peirce not only directed (and co-wrote) “Stop-Loss,” but for her it also was a personal project inspired by her younger brother, who had served in Iraq at age 18.
– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout Northern California and Nevada, including Sirius Radio. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio, and you can see his film reviews on RSN. For past reviews, blogs and audio clips, visit http://www.HowieNave.com.