The over-arching theme of companionship in Stop-Loss breaks the mold of the typical war movie, providing the audience with a satisfying experience as well as serving as a reminder of classics such as The Deer Hunter.
One would think that it would be hard to remain politically neutral when filming a movie about war, but director Kimberly Peirce never significantly strays in a way that could lead to the classification of her film as anti- or pro-war.
Stop-Loss begins with a first act focusing on a group of soldiers as they approach the end of a tour in Iraq. The film intersperses handheld, documentary-style footage with somewhat traditional, albeit shaky-cam inspired, coverage of squad leader Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe, excellent) as he leads his team in war-torn Iraq. After a devastating ambush in the heart of the city, Brandon and his squad return home to a small town in Texas.
Some of the soldiers, including Brandon and Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum, slightly over the top), are finishing their second tour, and have plans to start a life back home, leaving the army behind. However, even the best laid plans don’t always reach fruition, and several unexpected disturbances prevent the soldiers from returning to a normal life. Steve starts experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which, mixed with alcoholic bingeing, lead to conflicts with his fiancée. Brandon, unfortunately, becomes a first-hand victim of stop-loss, the army policy (somewhat of a loophole) which allows the United States government to require soldiers to continue military service past their expected date of release. In his attempt to fight this back-door draft, Brandon goes AWOL, travelling to Washington D.C. with Steve’s fiancée in an attempt to receive help from government people of a higher power.
“The movie was inspired by the soldiers that I interviewed throughout America, because I really wanted to tell a story that was emblematic of this generation’s story,” said Peirce, commenting on her source material for the movie. It has been nine years since her powerful film Boys Don’t Cry, but Peirce returns with gusto, filming Stop-Loss with a firm yet subtle hand, allowing the events of the story to unfold naturally on screen. And these events are more pertinent than ever as the war in Iraq still continues, affecting the lives of teenagers and young adults throughout the country.