2008-04-25 / Entertainment/Lifestyles


'Stop Loss' - Back Door Draft Abuse
Review By Robert Snyder

'Stop Loss' - Back Door Draft Abuse

Feature films about the Iraq War appear to be box office poison. Consider the dismal commercial fates of Paul Haggis's "In the Valley of Elah" and Brian De Palma's "Redacted." Following on that road to financial failure is Kimberly "Boys Don't Cry" Peirce's long-awaited second feature, "Stop-Loss."

This is upsetting. "Stop-Loss" is like bad-tasting medicine, which should be digested because it is good for you. The tragedy of American soldiers who sacrifice life and limb in multiple tours of duty, only to be "stop-loss'ed" (sent back for more combat) should be pushed down the public's throat. The military policy may be legal, but it is an abusive back-door draft, devastating psychologically for many soldiers. But without an actual draft, what's a country to do if it wants to wage a war without end?

With co-writer Mark Richard, Director Peirce takes us into the lives of three comrades in arms from Brazos, Texas: Sergeants Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) and Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) and Private Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). First, we see them lounging around on a base in Iraq. Then, they're on duty at a checkpoint, where they encounter a car filled with gun-wielding hostile locals. Hopping in a Hummer, they follow the car into a narrow alleyway in Tikrit and an enemy ambush. The skirmish is bloody, with military and civilian lives lost. However, King heroically manages to save his buddy, Steve.

The tour ends and the boys go back home to medals, parades, and girls, one of whom is Michele (Abbie Cornish), Steve's love interest. While King is psyched to reap the joys of non-military life, he soon learns that he has been stop-loss'ed. The revelation enrages him and, after some boozy brawls with his buddies, he decides to go AWOL, He hits the road to Washington, D.C. with Michele in search of a certain senator to undo his unfair enlistment contract.

It is not long before King realizes the hopelessness of his situation, particularly after he visits one of his comrades, Rico Rodriguez (Victor Rasuk), in a military hospital. Though legless, armless and blind, Rico envies Brandon for being able to return to active duty.

"Stop-Loss" may be against the war and the policies that prolong it. But it is a powerful, though painful tribute to the soldiers who are forced to keep on fighting and fighting and fighting because they forgot to read the small print.

See "Stop-Loss" before it too is forgotten.


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