We could show you, but we'd rather tell you!
Stop-Loss begins by showing us the conflict in question, in this case, the war in Iraq. After showing us the horror of what is going on over there, the movie shifts to the home front, and sees Staff Sergeant Brandon King and Sergeant Steve Shriver as they await their discharge from armed services. Unfortunately, due to the obscene amount loopholes that the chain of command can jump through, King finds himself stop-lossed, meaning he will be shipping back to Iraq when he should be getting out. He then goes AWOL with Steve's fiancé (what?), Michelle, while Steve tries to get through to fellow soldier, Tommy, who is suffering from severe PTSD!
It's a fairly interesting setup, based on a real world thing (thousands of soldiers have been stop-lossed, if the film is to believed), but it doesn't do enough with this set up. Instead of delving into the politics and the bureaucratic bullshit of the thing, it opts to show us King and Michelle as the cavort around Hick Town, USA. The other subplot, regarding Steve trying to help Tommy is significantly more interesting and better handled. That one at least delves into the psyches of the men in an effective way, while the other one just feels like a low rent chase film.
Ryan Phillipe is King. What the hell happened to this guy? Seriously, he was great in Crash, Flags of Our Fathers, Breach, and he's pretty good here. Where the hell has he been since then? This movie came out early 2008, over two years ago. Since then, all he's done is Macgruber. Ick! As King, Phillipe displays a good amount of range, making us empathize for the character, easily making up for the fact that story doesn't really give all that interesting of an arc.
Channing Tatum, on the other hand, sucks! Tatum is built like a brick shit-house and acts like one too. He's monotone when he should be lively, wooden when he should be emotional, and cold when he should be warm. We don't empathize with him at all, unlike Phillipe's character.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has the last main, soldier role, and, surprise surprise, he's the best thing in this movie! As Tommy, the soldier coping with post-traumatic stress, JGL is, criminally, given precious little to do, but he does it so well! We feel his pain and what is going on inside his head more so than we do with Pilippe, and certainly more so than we do with Tatum. He's superb, as usual.
Abbie Cornish plays Michelle. She's alright. I don't know. I don't really have anything to say about this one. Her character arc is damn unconvincing. I mean, we're just supposed to believe that she would drop everything and help out this guy? Come on! She's alright, if unremarkable.
Supporting players include Timothy Olyphant as King's hard-assed Lt. Col., Ciarán Hinds as King's father, and Rob Brown as a fellow soldier.
The performances are generally pretty good, but only Gordon-Levitt's rises above the sparse material to become something truly special. Phillipe isn't far behind him, but Tatum brings the movie pretty far down singlehandedly!
While his guitar gently weeps!
Director Kimberly Pierce can make a really good, intimate, character study. She showed us that much with Boys Don't Cry! Stop-Loss is still effective in some areas, but Pierce is far out of her comfort zone with this. The movie is often ham-fisted and pretentious, and is completely single minded in its goal, that being, delivering unto you, its message. Films like Saving Private Ryan, The Hurt Locker, Black Hawk Down, and Full Metal Jacket got their message across by putting the carnage and calamity on the screen. Stop-Loss takes a different approach. Rather than show you, it, instead, seizes you by the shoulders, sticks its nose right in your face and screams down your throat, "WAR IS HELL YOU IGNORANT BITCH! THESE MEN ARE SERIOUSLY MESSED UP! THEY HAVE NO HOPE! THERE IS NO GOD!" Ok, that last part isn't true, but the rest of it is. The beginning of the film seeks to ape it's big brothers by showing us the conflict, but - and this could just be my, teenage boy who needs to see shit blow up, mindset coming through- the violence in the beginning is tame and doesn't really convey any sense of tension or menace.
Thankfully, the film moves at a brisk pace, keeping us interested in each character's plight, and never wavering on any one thing for too long. There are some things that seem far fetched, but, I'm not very wise into the way this world works, so, I'm going to suspend my juvenile disbelief and just accept.
Stop-Loss isn't bad. It's quite good in some areas; the message and point of the movie is sound. It's just the way that the film goes about relaying that message to you that squander's what's good about it. The film is worth a look, if only for the performances of Phillipe, who desperately needs to do more work, and Gordon-Levitt, who is always amazing! If you're going to skip it, skip it for it's in your face approach and Tatum's performance. This movie isn't hell. It's more like purgatory.