‘Stop-Loss’ moving war drama

Natalie Smith

Audiences be warned: Guerilla warfare is disturbing, and director Kimberly Pierce does her best to pay homage to the gritty reality we as viewers are often sheltered from, along with the difficult process many soldiers face upon their return from Iraq where they attempt to assimilate back into the civilian population.

While the opening does nothing to rival the carnage of Omaha Beach seen in “Saving Private Ryan,” “Stop-Loss” has some harrowing images of its own that haunt the rest of the film.

“Stop-Loss” opens in the heat of battle, where Sgt. Brandon King, played by Ryan Phillippe (“Crash,” “Flags of our Fathers”), unwittingly leads his men into a particularly nasty ambush.

In a style reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” the film’s opening segment is juxtaposed with the soldiers’ homecoming to shed light on the difficult reality facing many soldiers after their tour of duty that may not be well-known or understood by the general public.

Channing Tatum (“Step Up,” “She’s the Man”) plays Steve Shriver, King’s childhood friend who served with him in Iraq and is engaged to King’s best friend, Michelle. Michelle, played by Abby Cornish, has been waiting for Shriver to finish his tour of duty for five long years.

While proud of her fiancé’s sniping potential, she is not prepared to wait any longer to marry him and is completely disinterested in becoming an Army wife.

Tommy Burgess, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is another childhood friend returned from Iraq alongside King and Shriver. Tommy’s mental scars are the darkest and most perturbing of the group.

Rico Rodriguez, played by Victor Rasuk (“Lords of Dogtown”), plays a smaller role in contrast to the others, but his story represents the physical toll Iraq can have on the bodies of soldiers to contrast Burgess’ mental trauma.

Most importantly, Phillippe’s character, King, is the clear protagonist of the film.

His story intertwines with those of the four other characters to form the drama in “Stop-Loss,” which ultimately centers around King being informed he is being sent back to Iraq under military stop loss, often referred to as the “back-door draft.”

To succinctly summarize the moral of “Stop-Loss,” as rhetorically stated by Michelle-who bears witness to each of the soldier’s mental and physical signs of duress-“What the hell has happened to these guys?”

Make no mistake; “Stop-Loss” is meant to be pro-soldier and not anti-war.

The sentiments are made markedly clear at the end, which is more stoic than sad. Honor, duty and a sense of brotherhood are the overriding themes that drive this film.

“Stop-Loss” is not Pierce’s first controversial film.

She also directed and co-wrote “Boys Don’t Cry,” which merited Hilary Swank an Oscar for best actress in 1999.

It is likely that Pierce’s second go-around as a director/co-writer was somewhat influenced by her younger brother, who enlisted in the Army at 18.

There are only two major complaints I have against “Stop-Loss.”

The first is the unnecessary length; the storyline could be re-written to tighten the plot and keep it from dragging in places, which would bring the drama home for audiences instead of giving them pause to look at their watches.

Second, the film attempts too much. It is too ambitious and, consequently, forces some events in an unrealistic way.

Echoing the sentiments of my first complaint, parts of the plot could be tweaked to fix the issue.

Without going into too much detail, there is a useless trip attempted to see a senator, along with a random run-in with another AWOL soldier, which is unlikely and not extremely useful to the plot.

Overall, “Stop-Loss” is provocative, insinuating and harsh.

It is real and brings issues surrounding modern warfare and the toll it takes on soldiers home to viewers in a very necessary way.

It opens tomorrow, and is a definite must-see if only for political context and civilian appreciation.