On the surface, Kimberly Peirce's new film 'Stop-Loss' is a poor follow-up to her Oscar-winning 'Boys Don't Cry'. However a closer look and a great performance shift the balance.
The US-Iraq conflict is still ongoing, or only just beginning depending on who you talk to, and our screens have already been flooded with films about the war including 'In the Valley Of Elah', 'Rendition', 'Lions for Lambs' and now 'Stop-Loss'. However few of the films, aside from perhaps 'Redacted' and 'Battle for Haditha', are actually based in Iraq or focus wholly on the daily combat in the country. On these grounds 'Stop-Loss' is no different, focusing on one Texan soldier (Phillippe) as he struggles with the war and the limited options he's faced with upon his return home.
Writer-director Peirce's movie stands out because she takes a very realistic look at the effect of the war. In particular, she looks at what the 'Stop-Loss' policy is doing to American soldiers as she lays out a clear message about, what she shows to be, an immoral practice.
The term 'Stop-Loss' refers to when a soldier's agreement with the army to conclude their service following their tour of duty is revoked, a process which Phillippe's character describes as a "back-door draft". Soldiers are left with no choice, or at least a limited one; to return to the frontline or go AWOL. The film pulls no punches in delivering its message about this hellish war and the violent, psychological and emotional imagery is unrepressed.
Peirce has done her homework, after watching her brother go through his time in Iraq and conducting numerous interviews with soldiers about footage they filmed in Iraq. For a woman with a background in feminism she has a great knack of explaining the male psyche as she has previously shown in 'Boy's Don't Cry' and now again in 'Stop-Loss'.
Phillippe has come a long way since 'Crash' and has certainly proved he's shed his juvenile pin-up image with this outstandingly intelligent, humane and physical performance. He's supported by a great cast led by Irish actor Ciarán Hinds and including Joseph Gordon Levitt, Channing Tatum, Abbie Cornish and Rob Brown.
The ending will not suit everyone but it avoids Hollywood cliché as it's a more realistic and sensitive view of the war and the American troop's side of the story.
However aside from the strong performances and direction, Peirce's film falters with her story. The characters are limited and fall victim to cliché, their fate all too predictable. Also, while the young, good looking cast shine, they outshine their characters. Doubtless this will ensure higher box-office takings, but the focus is then taken away from the story.
'Stop-Loss' is a humane look at an inhumane war, with a strong message for audiences - however even Phillippe's great performance can't hide the bullet-holes.