Stop-Loss”, the latest production from MTV Films, is the most recent attempt to put the Iraq War on screen. From the same people that gave you masterpieces such as “Beavis and Butthead” and “My Super 16” is a movie that covers the state of modern warfare and military policy. The thought is worth a laugh, and this film is certainly no “Saving Private Ryan,” but it doesn’t try to be. It handles a laundry list of controversial issues with great care and successfully stays apolitical. It is simply a narrative of young men and how they deal with the war they just came back from, and the one they unwillingly take on once they return home.
The title, “Stop-Loss” refers to a controversial policy that addresses a provision whereby troops can be redeployed even though they’ve completed their enlistment requirement. What the characters in this movie fail to realize is that all American males above the age of 18 have an eight-year statutory commitment to the U.S Military. They can call upon your services whenever they feel the need; whether or not you know it, or like it.
The story starts off in Iraq. It shows how desert urban warfare is one of the most dangerous practices in mankind. We see the gunfire, bombs, and deaths that have been seen in every war picture to ever grace the screen. What we finally see is those moments of situational ethics – what does one do when a child approaches with a grenade with the pin pulled? It is an unsettling thought, and even when the soldiers return home, the mood prevails. Ryan Phillippe (“Crash”) and Channing Tatum (“Step Up”) both bring strong performances as Texan soldiers. ” We fight ’em in Iraq – so we don’t gotta fight ’em in Texas,” Tatum’s character proclaims at a parade when he arrives home. Well, it’s clear it isn’t quite that simple: a few scenes later we see him digging a foxhole in his underwear on his front lawn, clearly dealing with post traumatic stress disorder. This begs the question: why is the physical well being of American soldiers while overseas always in public focus, but not their mental health once they’re home?
Phillippe’s character is multifaceted; although he was a proclaimed war hero, his view on the war fluctuates between confusion and cynicism, but either way he wants out of the whole mess. He enters a no-win situation as he tries to sue Uncle Sam. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“3rd Rock from the Sun”) also gives a quietly terrific performance as a soldier dealing with alcoholism once home.
“Stop-Loss” is not without its flaws, but it is ultimately thought provoking. Often movies either make us feel satisfied or like we’ve wasted ten dollars. This movie ends with war statistics that say with a sophisticated wink – “hope we got you thinking.”