"Boys Don’t Cry" Director Returns With Soldiers’ Untold Story
By Cole Smithey
Co-writer/ director Kimberly Peirce returns after her impressive 1999 drama "Boys Don’t Cry" with an equally empathetic film. "Stop-Loss" is centered around the U.S. military’s current backdoor-draft policy, responsible for forcing 81,000 soldiers—at the time of this writing—back into war after multiple tours of duty.
Squad leader Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe), his best friend Sgt. Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), and fellow soldier Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) return to their Brazos, Texas hometown after spending five blood-soaked years in Afghanistan and Iraq. Following a welcome home ceremony, where Brandon receives a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star from a U.S. Senator, he tries to help Steve and Tommy adjust to civilian life in spite of their violence riddled psyches. Brandon’s own effort to reacclimate to home life is challenged when he is ordered, under the Stop-Loss policy, to return to Iraq. "With all due respect, F#*k the President," is Brandon’s vehement reply to the Commanding Officer who ineffectively attempts to jail Brandon. What follows is an honest patriotic soldier’s desperate attempt to find a way out of a malicious bureaucratic booby trap.
With the help of Steve’s fiancée Michele (Abbie Cornish), Brandon goes AWOL. The pair they head for Washington D.C. to seek assistance from the Senator who called Brandon King a hero just a few days earlier. On the run, the American streets that Brandon dreamed of returning to take on a similar war zone quality to Iraq’s unpredictable alleys. Steve gets in touch with Brandon to tell him that "Boot" (a term applied to all U.S. military authority) has contacted the Senator. No reprieve will be possible. Starting a new life from scratch in Canada or Mexico becomes the topic of discussion as the road trip meets with a seireis of dead ends.
Kimberly Peirce, whose own younger brother recently returned from duty in Iraq, doesn’t push the story for ultimate dramatic effect. She doesn’t track the sensual tension between Brandon and Michele. Their off-limits relationship is understood and respected. Certain subplots could have been heightened to extract audience sentiment, but this is a movie about people, soldiers, and their families being forcefully submerged into tragedy with no less coercion than that used to torture a war prisoner.
"Stop-Loss a movie full of anger and heartbreak that sticks with you. Maddening, upsetting, and articulate, it’s a story that dares to address a systematic tentacle of Government expediency connected to a larger monster. The term Stop-Loss comes from an economic definition. "A ‘Stop-Loss Order’ is an order placed with a stock broker to sell a security when it reaches a certain price. It is designed to limit an investor's loss on a security position."
The U.S. media has kept hidden the breadth of affliction that Americans are suffering from two wars that we are told will never end. "Stop-Loss" elegantly poses the question, when is enough, enough? It’s a question that every thinking person on the planet is asking about America’s radical necon movement that is propigating endless wars in the name of democracy. It's a question you might be closer to answering after seeing the film.
Kimberly Peirce interviewed many soldiers and their families in researching the film. She continues to field feedback, questions, and ideas. Ms. Peirce invites correspondence at http://www.stoplossmovie.com/SoundOff/.
Rated R. 112 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)