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Stop-Loss DVD Review

Stop-Loss movie poster Stop-Loss

Theatrical Release: March 28, 2008 / Running Time: 112 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Kimberly Peirce / Writers: Mark Richard, Kimberly Peirce

Cast: Ryan Phillippe (Ssgt. Brandon Leonard King), Abbie Cornish (Michelle), Channing Tatum (Sgt. Steve Shriver), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Pfc. Tommy Burgess), Ciarán Hinds (Roy King), Timothy Olyphant (Lt. Col. Boot Miller), Victor Rasuk (Pvt. Rico Rodriguez), Rob Brown (Isaac "Eyeball" Butler), Josef Sommer (Senator Orton Worrell), Linda Emond (Ida King), Tory Kittles (Josh), Peter Gerety (Carlson), Alex Frost (Shorty Shriver), Mamie Gummer (Jeanie Burgess), Mark Richard (Pastor Colson), Laurie Metcalf (Mrs. Colson), Steven Strait (Michael Colson)

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As far as I can tell, the Texas accents in Stop-Loss sound authentic.
The opening scene of chaotic urban warfare in Iraq is probably a fair representation of some of what's going on there. The actors are of appropriate ages, the uniforms and weaponry surely check out, and the titular military policy at the heart of the plot really does exist. With such accuracy in place, why then does this film feel so false in everything it does?

Stop-Loss is an MTV Films production and, as one of the company's few projects meant to be taken seriously, the brand in this case is a warning sign to be heeded. The target audience would appear to be teenage girls who like watching muscular young men act "macho" and soldiers who would appreciate their fellow countrymen mustering some regard for their similar plights. The rest of us are more apt to cringe than sympathize with the characters in this amateurish drama.

At the Brazos, Texas parade thrown for their return, Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum, right) steps in to help best pal Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) with his impromptu speech. Yo, you just got stop-lossed, man.

The movie begins with twelve minutes in Tikrit, where Iraqi insurgents open fire at a checkpoint, leading to a quick chase and residential area carnage. Immediately after, members of the company are back home in Brazos County, Texas, being given heroes' welcomes from their supportive neighbors. The transition from sandy war to small-town Texas is made with violent outbursts, domestic abuse, excessive alcohol, and juvenile acting out.

Our attentions are fixed on three vets: decorated staff sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe), sharpshooting sergeant Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum, Step Up), and guitar-playing private Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). While turning in his Army duds, the best adjusted of the three, Brandon, receives the surprising news that he is soon to report back to Iraq for another tour, per the military's stop-loss policy. Brandon objects, but without a legitimate reason, he is obligated to serve the involuntary extension per presidential orders.

Unwilling to comply, he punches out a couple of fellow officers and goes AWOL in one of the film's most laughable moments. Brandon then sets out with Steve's fiancée Michelle (Abbie Cornish) for Washington, D.C., where he hopes to get a favor out of his state's seemingly caring senator. Maintaining the low profile that's necessary to protect a wanted man with APBs calling for his arrest, Brandon and Michelle's road trip makes a few scheduled stops en route to its changing destination.

Shooting at your unopened wedding presents is perfect cause for laughter in Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and friends. As the lone female and civilian among the leads, Abbie Cornish plays Michelle, deserter driver. "Stop-Loss" is most likely to be remembered for the Cornish romance that led to Phillippe's divorce from Reese Witherspoon.

Stop-Loss is a cranky film that regularly pulls at the heartstrings while trying to persuade viewers to oppose the title's long-employed and somewhat controversial policy.
Meanwhile, it insults our collective intelligence by making no effort to understand the enlistees' sense of duty and depicting post-war behavior in ways primitive and extreme. The film isn't bold enough to make its anti-war stance political or pronounced. It is, however, feeble enough to argue that a rational soldier would sooner bid farewell to his family and establish a new identity in a neighboring country than to honor the terms of his enlistment contract.

The easy to question principles offend less than the movie's other unpleasant traits. Efforts to paint the soldiers as human fall flat. There is a recurring use of home video footage from Iraq edited together like music videos in the "MTV style" for those with short attentions and frail emotions. The thick Texan accents are more a burden than a flavor. Subtlety is sorely absent, while profanity and fisticuffs are unable to mask a lack of earnest emotion. Even the closing text screens, meant to produce awe, have the impact of an unconfident high school student presenter.

The acting is disagreeable. Ryan Phillippe gives a noble effort but can't make his near-caricature lead take shape. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's talents are squandered in an inane supporting role. Channing Tatum continues to prove that range and emoting aren't prerequisites for an acting career. Aussie Abbie Cornish is bland and unconvincing as token female/civilian. Screentime is scarcely distributed beyond those four, rendering anyone else minor and one-note.

All these shortcomings sound like somewhat forgivable first-timer mistakes. But Kimberly Peirce, who directed, produced, and co-wrote Stop-Loss, made her debut with Boys Don't Cry, the indie drama that won a host of awards including an Oscar for star Hilary Swank. That was nine years ago and either the memories of what worked have faded or Peirce is finally experiencing the dreaded sophomore slump.

I'm surprised that Stop-Loss got fairly decent reviews from critics, a fact that was emphasized in the abundant TV ads. Neither the critiques nor the heavy marketing helped the movie sell many tickets. Earning just under $11 million domestically and hardly anything overseas (where it's still gradually being rolled out), Stop-Loss didn't come close to making back its estimated $25-$30 M production budget. Underperformance has been an ongoing theme for films involving the Iraq War and not even this one's attempt to appeal to younger viewers worked. Stop-Loss reaches DVD, and only DVD, next week from Paramount.

Buy Stop-Loss on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, French, Spanish),
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled
Release Date: July 8, 2008
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Reduced from $34.99)
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps


Somewhat bucking what you'd expect, Stop-Loss appears in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Like any new studio movie, the picture is sharp and clean, but the vibrant visuals here stand out as being better than most. Only the occasional handheld Iraq footage looks less than jake and that is, of course, a deliberate effect. I was also pleased with the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack which is striking in its depictions of elements as diverse as Tikrit explosions and a chirpy Texas cricket.
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If you're not from the Lone Star State (and maybe even if you are), you may have some difficulty discerning select muttered lines of dialogue. I had to consult the helpful subtitle track on a number of occasions.


The first and biggest of bonus features is a feature audio commentary by director/producer/co-writer Kimberly Peirce. There's a slight trace of patchwork, as we barely hear from co-credited co-writer Mark Richard. But Peirce proves to be engaging as she spells out her visual and storytelling intentions with relevant details and scene-specific stories. I dare say the movie's more tolerable viewed this way than with Peirce and Richard's dialogue.

Amidst bottles, papers, and Post-It notes, Mark Richard and Kimberly Peirce sharpen their script on their trendy MacBooks. Joseph Gordon-Levitt puts his Boot Camp experience in frank perspective. Deleted scenes include more stops on Brandon and Michelle's road trip, including this forehead-bandage-rocking one.

The first of two featurettes, generically-named "The Making of Stop-Loss" (20:55) proves valuable as well. Its wealth of revealing set footage is complemented by less common video of the writing phase and location scouting. Tying it all together are insightful comments from Peirce and her cast members.

The 10-minute "A Day in Boot Camp" is another rewarding inclusion.
It documents the actors' preparation in a fairly lax boot camp, where they and their Iraq veteran castmates simulate military training with regiment exercises, gun lessons, ready-to-eat meals, and battle simulations. Candid interview comments from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ryan Phillippe spice up the piece.

The meat and potatoes conclude with eleven Deleted Scenes (18:30) that are accompanied by optional Kimberly Peirce commentary. This lot of unique, non-anamorphic but finished-looking content includes more quiet small-town moments, needlessly filled-in blanks, and additional stops on Brandon and Michelle's trip in pursuit of Senator Worrell (Josef Sommer). Alluded to in the commentary, but not found here is the "strong sexuality" described in the MPAA's original R rating that disappeared in Stop-Loss' subsequent R re-rating.

The disc loads with trailers for J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, Iron Man, and The Rolling Stones' Shine a Light. Final bonus listing "Previews" plays the same after running promos for American Teen and The Ruins.

The main menu offers a dramatic montage that employs both flag imagery and patriotic score. Submenus uphold the motif but without sound or animation. There are no inserts inside the case.

Though Iraq combat footage is limited to the opening 13 minutes, the scene is meant to thrill and move. Channing Tatum looks glum while President Bush is all smiles from the wall.


If you're looking for a drama that captures some present-day sentiment on the ongoing Iraq War and examines the painful after-effects of military service, check out Paul Haggis' disarming In the Valley of Elah. If, on the other hand, you'd rather see pretty boys play Army soldiers in an agenda film lacking perspective and well-formed ideas, do be sure to see Kimberly Peirce's Stop-Loss. Want a glimpse of the plentiful corniness found here? The hero of the piece is a deserter who hides in the shadows when authority figures are near.

On the upside, those who enjoyed Stop-Loss should appreciate Paramount's DVD release, which delivers sharp picture and sound, 50 good minutes of video bonuses, and over two hours of worthwhile audio commentary. That leaves little to be desired, apart from a smarter, better film.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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The Cast of Stop-Loss:
Channing Tatum: Step Up | Abbie Cornish: Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The LookoutAngels in the Outfield10 Things I Hate About You
Ciarán Hinds: There Will Be BloodRace to Witch Mountain | Josef Sommer: Early Edition: The First Season

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Reviewed July 3, 2008.

Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 Paramount Pictures, MTV Films, and Paramount Home Entertainment.
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