While Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama devise exit strategies and Republican John McCain speculates that we’ll be in Iraq for the next 100 years, filmmaker Kimberley Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”) angrily delves into what’s happening to troops currently serving their country in the Middle East.
Specifically, the government’s Stop-Loss Policy, which authorizes the retention of soldiers in the service beyond their expected term, also known as a “Back Door Draft.”
Staff Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) has honorably completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and is recovering in Brazos, his small Texas hometown, when he’s informed that the Army plans to send him back – indefinitely. While he’s as patriotic as the next guy, that’s just not right!
Meanwhile, his buddy, Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), is so emotionally devastated that – his first night home – he gets drunk and digs a foxhole in the front yard from which he howls, much to the distress of his fiancée (Abbie Cornish). And Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has become a stereotypically twitchy, screwed-up psycho veteran.
So King impetuously goes AWOL, becoming a fugitive in the country he fought to protect.
Problem is: “Stop-Loss” isn’t really about the use of that legal loophole. Instead, it’s about soldiers’ post-traumatic stress upon returning home from war, a subject covered far more effectively by Paul Haggis in “In the Valley of Elah,” for which Tommy Lee Jones received a well-deserved Oscar nomination.
The contrived characters and cinematography, especially the Tikrit combat sequences, seem all too familiar and, since Paramount’s partner is MTV, the heavy metal/alt-pop/southern rock soundtrack can occasionally be overwhelming. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Stop-Loss” is grim, heart-wrenching 5, measuring the shameful human cost of the continuing escalation of the war.