Sunday, 9 September 2018

Movie Review: Stop-Loss (2008)


An examination of combat-induced post traumatic stress disorder and the added strain of an army forcibly re-enlisting soldiers, Stop-Loss shines a familiar light on the human cost of war.

During a tour of duty in Iraq, US Army Staff Sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) leads his squad into an ambush. In the ensuing intense battle the squad suffers losses: Rodriguez (Victor Rasuk) is severely wounded, "Preacher" is killed, and Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is traumatized. King storms a building to save his close friend Sergeant Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), but in the process causes many civilian deaths, including women and children.

Back in their small Texas community of Brezos, King, Shriver and Burgess are celebrated as heroes. Shriver exhibits signs of PTSD and strikes his girlfriend Michelle (Abbie Cornish) while Burgess embarks on an alcohol-fuelled self-destructive path. King is keen to be discharged having fulfilled his Army obligations, but is shocked to receive a "stop-loss" order from Lieutenant Colonel Boot Miller (Timothy Olyphant) forcing him to serve another tour in Iraq. He refuses to comply and goes AWOL with Michelle's help. Shriver is caught between duty to his country and his friend's erratic actions.

Directed and co-written by Kimberly Peirce, Stop-Loss fulfils its earnest intention of revealing the trauma of war amplified by the dubious forced reenlistment practice, essentially conscription under another name. Arriving five years into the protracted and unpopular war, the film takes on an easy target and quickly sketches in earnest young men believing they are doing the right thing coming back shell-shocked and jaded, only to be betrayed by the one institution they believed in.

After building a sturdy foundation with the opening battle and subsequent small-town hero's welcome, Stop-Loss stalls. Once King refuses his reenlistment orders and hits the road, the script loops around in lazy circles. As part of his search for a way out of his predicament King visits the badly wounded Rodriguez in a military hospital and Preacher's parents, useful war-is-hell narrative devices but perhaps not exactly what an AWOL Sergeant would do.

Momentum is further lost when Shriver re-emerges to try and reel in his friend, and the triangle of Michelle as Shriver's girl helping King in his escape remains rickety throughout, not helped by unconvincing emotional outbursts. Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum and Abbie Cornish are adequate in the stoic mid-range, but struggle in more expressive moments. A physical scuffle in a graveyard becomes a clumsy low point instead of a cathartic climax.

Stop-Loss revisits the well-worn physical and emotional losses of war, then stops.






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