Stop-Loss Kimberly Peirce

Stop-Loss Kimberly Peirce
After being M.I.A. from filmmaking since 1998’s Boys Don’t Cry, director Kimberly Peirce returns with this harsh look at how the lives of a group of young American soldiers were affected by service in the Iraq war.

Ryan Phillippe turns in one of the strongest performances of his career as decorated war hero Sgt. Brandon King, whose relief over finishing his final tour of duty in Iraq turns to fury when the army nails him with the Stop-loss policy — the involuntary extension of a service member’s enlistment contract — and tries to ship him back. Before reaching this juncture, Stop-Loss struggles slightly with stylistic tone while documenting King and his squad’s time in Iraq.

Pierce elects to utilise an amalgamation of recreated and authentic home videos shot by soldiers, her reason being that it’s a popular method used by the boys fighting the war for chronicling their experiences. It’s a respectable effort at humanising the characters but the jarring quick-cut aesthetic feels too MTV and is at odds with the gritty realism of the hand-held camera work in the battle scenes. This uncompromising war footage is comparable to the limb-rending, blood-splattering gruesomeness of Saving Private Ryan. Were Pierce to have buckled down and just told the story without the attempts at extraneous stylistic flare, Stop-Loss would be a more consistently powerful piece of work.

Once the film finds its footing, the actors, particularly Phillippe and the always excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt, dig their heels into their characters, drawing the audience into the painful emotional and mental conflicts of these young men torn between duty and reason. Perhaps wisely, Peirce avoids taking any firm stance beyond the unquestionable horrors of war, but that lack of a political position will inevitably end up leaving a certain portion of the audience feeling somewhat betrayed by the film’s conclusion.

Despite any of its shortcomings, Stop-Loss will assuredly be a far more balanced look at the American military than co-stars Gordon-Levitt and Channing Tatum’s next turn together in combat boots — Cobra Commander and Duke, respectively, in next year’s G.I. Joe. (Paramount)