Monday, November 19, 2007

Stop-Loss Sneak

I don't normally share test screening buzz. Movies often change from tests to final product and it can be unfair to the movie in question --I'd hate people to judge rough drafts of anything I've written. But since this one is positive and since I know it's no studio plant and since it's about the new Kimberly Peirce film (so many reasons), I had to spread the good news. I know many of you reading are fans of her well observed, evocative work on Boys Don't Cry (1999) and the performances she guided including Hilary Swank (who won the Oscar), Chlöe Sevigny (nominated) and Peter Sarsgaard (still waiting for recognition, damnit). Pierce has taken nearly a decade to follow up on her debut hit despite, I hear, numerous offers and false starts. Here's what 'the unknown critic' has to say about her latest, an entry in the growing field of Iraq War related dramas:
The term "Stop-Loss" refers to a loophole that permits the military to retain soldiers beyond their required term of service. The film Stop-Loss tells the story of one man faced with just this situation. Following a brutal ambush that resulted in the deaths of several of his men, Staff Sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) returns home to his hometown in Texas, only to be told by his superiors that he will be required to return to Iraq. Understandably, he balks at the idea and runs out on the Army and embarks on a road trip to Washington, D.C., accompanied by Michelle (Abbie Cornish), the fiancée of his lifelong friend Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum).

I realize that the plot synopsis conjures up any number of formulas- the road movie, with lots of colorful characters and picturesque stops along the way; the
chase thriller, with Brandon and Michelle hiding out from the law; even the coming home story, with battle-seasoned soldiers uneasily returning to their old lives. But Stop-Loss doesn't really fit into any of these categories. The film isn't so much about a plot as it is about the characters who inhabit it.

Stop-Loss is neither an angry film nor a despairing one, although at times it appears to be both. Instead, it's a surprisingly clear-eyed film about a man whose life has been changed by his war experiences, for better or worse. Whether he likes it or not, the Army has shown Brandon that he’s a born leader, and the film demonstrates it not only by the respect he gets from his fellow soldiers, but also by how lost they are when he’s not around. Rodriguez (Victor Rasuk), severely injured in battle, spends his days in a military hospital. Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is prone to becoming drunk and violent. And Steve finds that outside the military real life makes little sense to him anymore.

As for the awards potential of Stop-Loss, I'd say that a lot of it rests on how it catches on with the public. The film is set to be released in March 2008, which rarely bodes well for a movie's Oscar chances. In addition, while all of the performances are solid, none is particularly baity. Even the showier roles- Phillippe, Gordon-Levitt, Rasuk- lack the big histrionic moments that tend to come with performances that get awards attention. But what the Stop-Loss lacks in awards-show-ready clips it makes up for in textured storytelling and detailed characterization. And the feel Peirce exhibited for small-town life in Boys Don’t Cry is in full flower here. Stop-Loss is a major achievement, sure to be a discussion point among astute filmgoers when it’s released in March.
Hearing good news about the film fills me with satisfaction. It's been a long time in coming. I think the move to March is a good thing for two reasons. First, it puts some distance between itself and all of these Iraq war films that are currently flopping. Second, we need more adult friendly dramas in the first quarter of each year. This year we got Zodiac. Maybe Stop-Loss will be 2008's quality sip of water in the usually barren sand of March. You should know too (just for giggles) that the unknown critic assures me that Channing Tatum is still allergic to clothing. What? I swear I didn't ask!

Oh, and here's the trailer which you may have seen already


Anonymous said...

This film may be good, but I really don't think the public is interested in Iraq-themed movies.

There's another adult-oriented film that may be coming out in the first quarter. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

Trailer p

Anonymous said...

I saw Stop-Loss a few months ago, and I have to say I felt completely the opposite of this review. The film I saw was a chaotic mess with laughable dialogue/plot lines and performances ranging from decent (Tatum, Gordon-Levitt) to quite bad (no surprise - Phillipe). The opening 10-15 minutes in Iraq were actually quite stunning, so I felt like it was off to a good start, but then it hit a very abrupt stop after that. Of course, it was a few months ago, so maybe Peirce has cleaned it up quite a bit (which I hope is the case, since Boys Don't Cry was a very interesting, well-done film), but I was not impressed.

Joe Reid said...

Uh-oh, Nathaniel. You typed Channing Tatum's name and put up a pic. Duck and cover, buddy.


I know right. but for whatever reason, no crazy bitching ensued.

maybe people don't care about stop-loss yet. *shrug*

Anonymous said...

Despite the negative review posted by Derek, I found the trailer interesting - it probably doesn't hurt that I have a brother who has been in Desert Storm and Desert Shield AND whatever the hell we call this current mess. So I'll probably give it a shot (never mind the pun).

It also doesn't hurt that I haven't actually seen any Iraq themed movies up to this point, and based on discussions on the 'net and so forth, these issues are still very much alive amoungst the American public.


Anonymous said...

I need some help. If you know the name and band of the song on the preview after "let the bodies hit the floor" please let me know and email me at

your help would be greatly appreciated

Anonymous said...

This film stires up a little anger for me. For a little background, I'm an active duty Marine who has served 16 months in Fallujah and Ramadi. What angers me so much is that I haven't seen a movie yet showing our hard-fought battle in Fallujah, or our brilliant march from the line of departure all the way to Baghdad in the beginning.

A Sergeant of Marines

Instead, what we see is a movie about a soldier who pitches a fit over being retained past his contract. Cry me a river. If it wasn't for the stop-loss, the Army would have been even shorter handed and MORE soldiers would have died because of it.

Can't blame hollywood though. They just make what are rapidly declining society wants to see.