stoploss08-04-01Stop Loss is a film required viewing for anyone with a heart-beat. Its emotional drive keeps your pulse racing. You could go watch a flick about a bank robbery or a border crossing…but, hey, that’s been done before.

Though highly entertaining, the story carries us far beyond mere cinematic amusement, its characters deal with high stakes of country and duty, life and death, family and identity, love and self. Its narrative handles the complexity of how red-blooded Americans are coping with the war in Iraq. The otherwise uninvolved civilian audience, we step quickly inside the lives of patriotic soldiers who care about their country and learn the hard way that good intentions and innocence hardly suffice as a compass through the big world. It helps us all to take a look at who we are as Americans regardless if we’re in or out of small-town USA, liberal or conservative.

The movie’s jumble of feelings and adrenaline delivers a taste of authenticity that we won’t find on the sanitized news channels. Instead of moral indignation, this story runs on earthy fuel: blood, guts, and beer. Testosterone, popular music, and ambiguous, confused ideology weave together a fabric of reality. Whether over there or once returned home, the young men carry a bundle of pent-up rage for all they go through. They signed up for a justified war to protect the homeland, and to bring justice to an enemy. Once having believed their government leaders though, combat teaches them a whole new perspective on geopolitical ambitions. Stuff they never had to consider in public high-school.

In the first scenes of amateur video, young soldiers make it clear from the start that they’re good ‘ol boys trying to do their best. They’re not Yale graduates of a privileged ruling class, nor sons of a former president, pretending to talk and walk like Texans. They’re the real deal, blue collar guys, products of what America delivers from public education and pop culture.

Staff Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) leads his squad, supervising a checkpoint in Tikrit, where insurgents draw them into an ambush leaving some of them dead, others mangled, and the rest badly shaken by intense urban combat where friend and foe are indistinguishable.

After the trauma of that battle, Brandon and his best pal, Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), are especially happy to end their tours and return home to Brazos, Texas, looking forward to normal life.

Once Brandon King’s squad returns home, though, they quickly discover how the war returns to them from inside out. Intense, extended combat duty dismantles some of the vets, such as Tommy Burgess (Joseph Leavitt). Others, like Shriver, feel homeless outside Army life. Then when squad leader King tries to turn in his gear, some administrator tells him that the President has “stop-lossed” him and he must redeploy to Iraq. His response: brief but choice words about the President and his Stop Loss prerogative. This triggers the story. His superiors, parents and friends—form the heart of the movie. The situation illuminates gut-wrenching questions.

Outraged, King goes AWOL. Still naïve to the world of politics, he wants to fix things by hitting the road to talk with a senator he met during their homecoming parade. Steve’s fiancée, Michele (Abbie Cornish), a close friend of the family, helps him by driving him in her car.

Steve finally comes to pick up his fiancée Michele and to bring Brandon back to his senses when he meets them at a Notell Motel. When Steve surprises Michele that their wedding is postponed for the sake of another military hitch, she breaks the engagement with him and stays to help Brandon. Sexual tension rises. Yet their road trip takes them nowhere—like Iraq.

Imagine if you will, returning back from war, wanting never to go back to it, and then the government steps in and tells you, “If you don’t go back to fight this endless war, we’ll make you a criminal, scampering around the country like a rat out of a cage. You might run to Mexico or Canada, but there, you’ll live in the empty shell of a man without family or friends, without your identity…”

In the movie’s 112 minutes much happens in non-stop dramatic action. I highly recommend this film, we don’t have time to miss it.

Starring: Ryan Phillippe (Brandon); Channing Tatum (Steve); Abbie Cornish (Michele); Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Tommy).
Directed by: Kimberly Peirce; screenplay by Peirce and Mark Richard.