“Stop-Loss” is a powerful film that follows Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) and his squad as they serve in the Iraq War and return home to Texas.
The movie begins by showing the U.S. soldiers in the Middle East. Here, we meet Sgt. King and the men in his squad, including King’s best friend Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) and Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
The soldiers are caught in a combat in Tikrit, Iraq, with shots coming from all sides of buildings and cars. The scene captures not only the tension and quick thinking that comes with an attack but how it also cultivates an impressive camaraderie among the soldiers.
Although this scene does not take up much time, the event hangs over every other scene in the movie.
A month later, the men return to their hometown of Texas as decorated heroes. Here, director Kimberly Peirce depicts the terrible experience of when men who are trained to kill and haunted by death must adjust to civilian life.
King and his friends try to forget what happened in the Middle East and ignore their inner torments with the help of large consumptions of alcohol, as well as finding ways to release their anger and aggression.
As the squad leader, King feels responsible for men like Burgess, who gets thrown out by his wife, and for Shriver, who drinks so much that he thinks he is back in Iraq and hits his fiancié Michelle (Abbie Cornish).
Although King is proud of his service, he is ready to leave.
However, the day King is going to be discharged from the army, he finds himself stop-lossed, thanks to the fine print in his enlistment contract that allows the military to involuntarily extend his service if necessary.
He has two options: Go AWOL (deserting a post or station without leave) or return to Iraq. He chooses to flee the base and heads to Washington along with long-time family friend Michelle, in order to see if a friendly senator can do anything to help.
On the way, King finds himself getting closer to going over the edge. It is on the cross-country journey that we realize King is not a flawed hero but a man with real psychological problems trying to cope with a world that seems to no longer have any morals.
“Stop-Loss” is an accurate depiction of how the war affects soldiers as people and as family and friends. The characters are exceptional and believable in their roles. This is Phillippe’s best movie; he performs with range and passion.
The cast and story line handle the delicate balance between a movie and politics by not taking obvious sides – the movie shows respect for those who serve in the military.