With the five-year anniversary of the Iraq war and the 4,000 U.S. soldier death toll, not much has been mentioned about the dissenting views from U.S. soldiers on the war by mainstream media. But “Stop-Loss,” an MTV film, tries to shows the other side of war without being completely against it on the big screen.
Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”) directs this riveting film about the courage one soldier has to summon after he is called back to Iraq. Sergeant Brandon King, played by Ryan Phillippe, might be the number one reason why twenty-something women run to see this movie Once in the theater, it’s more than Phillippe’s good looks; it’s about politics, family and King’s decision to stay or go AWOL forever.
“I honored my contract and I expect the army to do the same,” says King, after he tries to convince his lieutenant colonel (Timothy Olyphant, “Hitman” and “Deadwood”) about not sending him back. But all odds are against him. The friendly politician, his friends, and his colleagues who welcomed him home will not tolerate his behavior.
The only person there to help him out is Michelle (Abbie Cornish) who is engaged to Steve (Channing Tatum, “Step Up” and “She’s the Man”), King’s best friend.
The movie doesn’t necessarily portray King’s character as anti-war; in fact, he is proud to have served his country, but he feels the army is using him in their “backdoor draft.”
The draft and the ‘backdoor draft’ are the main issues of the film, which in reality are only touched upon on the surface, but not really explored in detail.
Unlike many teenage driven films, “Stop-Loss” has mid-20-year-old actors playing actual 20-year-old characters (except for Phillippe), which gives a more realistic view to the actual soldiers fighting in Iraq. The characters seem to fit their Texan-style lives, except for Cornish, whose accent is a mix of Australian and Texan. Even though she becomes a main character in the film, her character doesn’t seem too involved in the story, as the male characters have more to say.
The film mostly shows an unnamed military-base town in Texas where King’s family and friends live. The scenes from Iraq are only shown in the beginning or from flashbacks of the war, but are still effective in visualizing the horrors of combat. Scenes of the run-down motels, where AWOL soldiers hide and King finally finds someone to help him out, are also shown throughout the road trip.
The film touches also on the trauma that King and his friends face with Tommy, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who comes back traumatized after losing his friend in Iraq and engages in violent drinking and remembering the past, a similar throwback to Vietnam films or Tim O’Brien’s collection of army stories, “The Things They Carried.”
King also keeps having dreams of Rico (Victor Risk from “Lords of Dogtown”) another of his war buddies, who is hospitalized after an ambush in Iraq.
The film tries to include a variety of music genres, like country from Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” and “Matter of Time” from a soldier rap group called 4th25, to Drowning Pool’s “Bodies.”
The mixture of these songs might have people wondering if is this an anti-war film or not. But the truth is that the film is aimed more at the issue of true friendship and who will be willing to stand by their friends, despite military decisions and attitudes.
Though many pro-military people might not like Phillippe cursing the president’s name or listening to the many dissenting views of the current war, it is still enjoyable to anybody who is interested in a socially significant film.