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STOP LOSS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ryan Phillippe, Abbie Cornish, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ciaran Hinds, Timothy Olyphant, Victor Rasuk, Rob Brown
Director: Kimberly Peirce
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 111 Minutes
Release Date: July 8, 2008

ďI'm not going back. I'm fightin' this thing.Ē

Film ***

Stop-Loss might be the most grueling film yet dealing with the effects of the Iraq war. By the end of it, and even while watching it, you canít help but hold your head in shame. Certain films are intended as wake up calls to society, and this is indeed one of them.

This marks the first film from director Kimberly Peirce since her breakout, award winning Boys Donít Cry surfaced nearly ten years ago. Pierce had a most understandable reason for making this film. Her brother happens to be serving in Iraq and has paid witnessed to what the characters in this movie go through, so the storyline is clearly a personal one in addition to being a powerful statement.

Without getting too political here, Iíll admit that Iíve never been in favor of this war. However, I will never in my life withdraw my support of the soldiers, which is exactly why I identified with this movie. In a sense itís an anti-war movie, but it is also one that is pro-soldier.

The title refers to an unwanted extension of the enlistment contract of a soldier. And with there being a shortage of soldiers, no draft, as well as no end to this war anytime soon, the process of a soldier being stop-lossed is unfortunately more than likely. The movie informs us that 81,000 soldiers have been sent back into active duty with no other alternative.

The film opens with a close-knit unit of soldiers in Iraq enduring a most horrific and bloody ambush. Despite the loss of two men, the remaining soldiers luckily survive, and are just about to head back home to their home in Brazos, Texas. Having just experienced pure hell, they are all looking forward to getting back to normal civilian life.

However, it isnít until a couple days after returning home that Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) receives some unsettling news. He has been stop-lossed, and ordered to return to active duty in Iraq despite serving his initial service. Stunned beyond words, and not willing to accept his orders, Brandon goes AWOL.

The story is gut wrenching in its depiction on the effects of not only war, but the effects of being forced back into certain death by a government that promised something else at the end of oneís tour of duty. The movie also provides equal focus on other soldiers from Brandonís unit possibly facing stop-loss. His two childhood friends, Steve (Channing Tatum) and Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) deal with the possibility with different outcomes.

But despite the raw power of Stop-Loss, the film isnít without its flaws. Though his performance is quite tremendous, Ryan Phillippeís way overdone Texas accent was really annoying at times and even produced a few chuckles. I was reminded of Keanu Reevesí performance in Devilís Advocate, which had the exact same problem; terrific acting in spite of a bad southern accent.

And there are a few scenes in the movie that feel out of place, even when itís driving the story into its right direction. The best example is the part when Phillippeís character officially goes AWOL, which feels like a scene right out of First Blood. Being that the movie surrounding this scene is built in reality, it just doesnít feel like it belongs here.

But those complaints aside, Stop-Loss is a strong and absolutely daring piece of filmmaking. Since escapist fare is more popular now than films dealing with the war, this makes the movie a really hard sell for audiences. However, this is a film that should be discovered by as many people as possible because the issue it deals with is one that everyone needs to become strongly aware of.

Video ****

This Paramount release boasts a most dynamic picture quality. The anamorphic picture is nothing but top notch, and being that the film was made with an indie film quality, thatís a rare achievement as far as image quality is concerned. The scenes in Iraq are most astonishing in appearance, thanks to a distinct color hue applied in them. Elsewhere, picture is sharp, clean and terrifically rendered.

Audio ***1/2

Though itís mainly a dialogue-driven film, the 5.1 mix does deliver a most striking piece of audio in several areas. The opening war ambush in Iraq provides an expected jolt, as well as some tremendous work on the surround channels by way of the set pieces. Music on the soundtrack is another strong point, and dialogue delivery is as top-notch as it gets.

Features ***

Though not a tremendously loaded disc, this Paramount release does deliver with what itís got. Thereís a commentary with director Kimberly Peirce and co-writer Mark Richard, as well as 11 Deleted Scenes with optional commentary, and two featurettes; ďThe Making of Stop-LossĒ and ďA Day in Boot CampĒ.

Summary:

Stop-Loss is a film that doesnít hold anything back in terms of making us aware the price too many soldiers are paying. Itís not an easy film to enjoy, much like any film about the Iraq war, but itís simply too powerful and important to be ignored.

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