Reviewed by: Chris

Can you think of a time when the light at the end of the tunnel is what keeps you going? But just imagine, you get to the end, and the tunnel gets longer...

Let’s not talk about the war - the war in Iraq must be one of the most divisive topics around. But you maybe have to talk to the people involved. And if it is your brother, your sister, your son or sweetheart serving, what’s most important then? Come home. Know that I love you. Know that I’m proud of you. And for the guy serving? Do my job as well as I can. Hold my head up. Stop my buddies getting killed.

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Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) is completing his last tour of duty. When he gets home he is celebrated as a hero. Happy and relieved. Then, together with several other men, he is ‘stop-lossed.’ A legal clause that can force a soldier to perform extra active service beyond his initial terms. A Catch-22.

Director Kimberly Peirce (best known for Boys Don't Cry) is expert at teasing out heavy emotional subject matter. “This movie is definitely pro-soldier,” she says. “It may not be pro the Stop-Loss policy. But we have tried to honour and to show with great compassion and understanding the unique experience of these brave men and women and the effect that war has, not only on them, but on their families, friends and everyone around them.”

Written into the contracts, stop-loss still comes as an emotional six-ball. And it’s the story of over 80,000 troops since 9/11. The difficulty of adapting to civilian life is compounded by life-and-death duty tours just when you thought it was all over. A girl waiting to marry. Parents praying every night for the safe return of their sons - and having their hopes realised only to be dashed.

Stop-Loss is the most pro-troops Iraq war-film I have yet witnessed. You will shed tears for the bravery and commitment even if you are a total pacifist. But the real heartbreaker is for the people who suffer with such uncertainty back home. Iraq action scenes are horrific, bloody and full of complex challenges. But I sat and cried for the waiting women. Their emotional journeys are nightmarish rides into an unsure future.

“I see it as a unique set of circumstances, not a sweeping indictment of any group, or of the military, or the Administration,” says Phillippe (some of the criticisms have even been that it portrays the Army too leniently.) “Although it does say something about the situation we’re in, what’s at the heart of the drama is what happens to these guys when they come back home and can’t cope.”

Many films about Iraq have poor attendance seemingly because of low emotional momentum. Not so here. Powerful acting and superb characterisation is coupled with an emotional pile-driver that punches the story-layers with heart-rending intensity. Peirce’s soldiers are no sad stereotypes. Based on many interviews, we see how different mentalities cope – or fail to cope – with the pressure. Nothing feels staged (except, perhaps, when Brandon’s scar miraculously heals). Abbie Cornish is superb as the fiancée of Brandon’s childhood buddy, and her glamorous looks conceal a thoughtful and resourceful young woman. She is determined to do what is right for her and the people in her life. But what anyone can ‘do’ always faces a balance-sheet of reality. Stop-Loss is a film where ideals take second place to human love, but without being sacrificed in the process.

Scenes in Tikrit (filmed in Morocco) seemed to me as convincing and colourful as those in Texas. Both of them opened my mind. Problems of psychological adjustment that many people have to go through are eloquently portrayed and succeeded in humbling me. War has been romanticised in every age. And we block out the seriousness of post-battle syndromes. Knowing the reality might or might not change our beliefs or make us stop. But sometimes we have to focus on the choices we can take rather than a world we would ideally make.

Reviewed on: 24 Apr 2008
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Affecting drama about the bravery of modern soldiers in Iraq.
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Director: Kimberly Peirce

Writer: Mark Richard, Kimberly Peirce

Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rob Brown, Channing Tatum, Victor Rasuk, Terry Quay, Matthew Scott Wilcox, Connett Brewer, Timothy Olyphant, Josef Sommer, Linda Emond, Abbie Cornish

Year: 2008

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: USA


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