Monday, July 7, 2008


So what is this one about?
Wikipedia explains that stop-loss
in the United States military, is the involuntary extension of a service member's active duty service under the enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond their initial end of term of service (ETS) date. It also applies to the cessation of a permanent change of station (PCS) move for a member still in military service. Stop-loss was used immediately before and during the first Persian Gulf War. Since then, it has been used during American military deployments to Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the subsequent War on Terror.

The policy has been legally challenged several times, however federal courts have consistently found that military service members contractually agree that their term of service may be involuntarily extended.

So, Netflix describes Stop-Loss
After a tour in Iraq, decorated hero Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) returns home to his small Texas town and tries to readjust to civilian life. But when he's called up again as part of the military's controversial stop-loss program, he decides to go AWOL. Directed by Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry), this poignant drama co-stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Channing Tatum as Brandon's war buddies and Timothy Olyphant as his superior officer.
And how much did I pay to watch?
You may or may not have noticed that I posted that this review was coming soon on July 7. Well, as you may or may not know Stop-Loss was released on July 8. So how did I swing this? One of the many perks of Jack working at Blockbuster (perks for me, not for him) is that he can get movies before they are out (I guess the store gets the shipment in a few weeks before they are released) and he can rent them before the 'public' can. So, he got me this one. For free.

And what did I think?
I have many thoughts about this film, but the one nagging at me the most has to do with Abbie Cornish, an actress in the movie who played Channing Tatum's (what sort of name is that?!) fiance. If you keep up on celebrity goss you may realize that Ms. Cornish was supposedly the catalyst for divorce between Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe. This seems mental to me, and apparently to the people at, because Abbie Cornish is busted. I mean, uggo. Wtf was he thinking? She has the unfortunate affliction of fat face/skinny body, whereas Reese is just hot! (On second thought, and while looking for an appropriate google image to link to "skinny body", Abbie Cornish just seems overall fat...I mean, not fat for a real person, but fat for a celebrity... yeah, I'm an asshole) BUT, I have veered way off course here. Back to serious movie reviewing.

Ok. I guess I felt it was unfortunate that the director, Kimberly Peirce went from the extraordinary Boys Don't Cry to Stop-Loss. I always feel a little bad when a director's first movie is so amazing that any other movie they make won't compare. I mean, how could this film compare to the other one? Answer: it couldn't. And I think I was waiting the whole movie for something that would make it stand higher than Boys Don't Cry--though of course we all know that would be absurd.

I also found the political message of the film to be convoluted and found myself asking over and over, "what is the message? what is the point?" Peirce said she wanted to make a movie from the soldier's points of view, but I guess their povs weren't communicated clearly enough. The end of the film left me wondering, "um, wait, why? what just happened?" and I think that was due to lack of a clear pov of Phillippe's character. Why did he make the decision he did? It just didn't seem to fit.

What Stop-Loss does do very well has to do with the actors. I've never really liked Ryan Phillippe because he isn't a very transformable actor. For example, when you watch someone like Chris Cooper you tend to forget it is Chris Cooper because he is good at transforming himself into the character he is playing. Russell Crowe is also ridiculously good at this. Ryan Phillippe can never convince me that he isn't Ryan Phillippe. So, it was shocking when I found myself really admiring his acting in this movie. He was really quite good (beside the end, which I think was a fault of Peirce's writing). Joseph Gordon-Levitt was great in his role (and it was exciting that his wife was played by Mamie Gummer--thats Meryl Streep's daughter for those playing along at home). Even the bizarrely named Channing Tatum was great. I'd say the acting was what saved this movie for me...or maybe it was the actors+their acting.

So what is the rating? (out of 10)

Like I've already said, this one was tough, because it was certainly no Boys Don't Cry. The acting was good, and I like the director, but the movie didn't really have a clear enough message. I think a movie like this is supposed to have some sort of point. Yes, the portrayal of young men (between 18-24 I'd say) destroyed by war was affecting, but you can see the same thing on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams every night. Its clear that war is destroying the men and women who go to fight. It almost doesn't even need to be said. What did need to be said though was some sort of stance on what is happening. I think as a film maker Peirce needed to clearly state, "This is wrong, look what it is doing to the kids who fight", but she didn't.

Because of its ambiguousness I give Stop-Loss a 6.

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