Ryan Phillippe gives a riveting performance as distraught war hero who finds himself at odds with the Army’s policy in Iraq in the unforgettable drama, “Stop Loss.”
A tight-knit Army platoon in Iraq are gallantly going about the business of serving their country. While on patrol, the group comes under fire and pursues their attackers. Led by their platoon leader, Sgt. Brandon King (Phillippe), the group march right into the middle of an ambush. They subdue the insurgents but not before losing two of their own in the process. Grief stricken, King puts thoughts of the exercise aside, concentrating on his impending discharge in a matter of days.
His platoon returns stateside, and along with his childhood friend, Cpl. Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), the platoon are given a hero’s welcome in their hometown. But the wounds of war run deep and during that weekend King, Shriver and another hometown platoon mate, Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) find themselves in the eye of several troubling storms. The three men are all suffering various levels of Post Stress Disorders with side effects including alcoholism, domestic abuse and violent battle flashbacks that endanger the women they love and anyone foolish enough to get in their way.
After two tours in Iraq, King is ready to move on with his life. While in the process of obtaining his discharge, he learns that he will be returning back to Iraq for yet another tour. Informed that he was “stop lossed,” or forced against his will to serve even though he had completed his original enlistment. Outraged, King curses out his superior officer, Lt. Col. Boot Miller (Timothy Olyphant) and goes AWOL, literally going from a war hero to a deserter. He hits the road with Shriver’s fiance, Michelle (Abby Cornish) on his way to Washington, DC looking for answers. What he discovers is that he is not alone and he must make a decision – flee to Canada or Mexico as a deserter or go back to the Army for another tour in Iraq.
Written, directed and produced by Kimberly Peirce, “Stop Loss” has many of the dramatic elements of her last film, the extremely personal story, “Boys Don’t Cry.” This time around, she coaches an incredibly effective performance from Phillippe, who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders as he must be a rock for his fellow soldiers and also the glue that holds everyone, including himself, together. His outrage at the President’s Iraq policy in the film is one of the movie’s best sequences that had many in the audience cheering in the aisles.
His presence so dominates “Stop Loss,” that he is reminded that “without him, it all falls apart.” Much like Tom Cruise’s character in “Born on the Fourth of July,” Phillippe’s King loves his country, but feels that love is not recipricated to him or many of the other soldiers in his command. While many may take Peirce to task for her supposed “one-sided” position on the stop-loss policy, there is no denying that these young actors did an outstanding job of bringing her vision to big screen with startling authenticity.
It is unfortunate that such a heavy responsibility lies on the shoulders of such young men. For a couple of hours Peirce takes us into their world and the end result is a film that will join the canon of other great modern war films and possibly will be the “Platoon” for this generation. Almost 40 years ago, Marvin Gaye’s words still resonate and “Stop Loss” shows them to be true when he states, “war is not the answer, cause only love can conquer hate.” It’s a message that we still haven’t learned.