Admirable intentions aside, Stop-Loss is a sturdy drama that fails to truly make the impact it should.

Brandon, Tommy and Steve have just returned from their tour of duty in Iraq only to find that there are parts of the conflict they can’t leave behind. All suffer from posttraumatic stress in one way or another – Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is walking around as if in a dream, whilst Brandon’s (Ryan Phillippe) waking and sleeping hours are peppered with violent flashbacks.Stop-Loss Steve (Channing Tatum) seems to be handling it the best, probably as his perspective on the war itself (“We’re killing them over there so we don’t have to kill them here”) makes him somewhat immune to the after effects. To make matters worse, Brandon finds himself ‘stop lossed’. This awkward adjective effectively means he has to go back for another round, despite the fact that he’s completed his tour. The military are having more and more trouble replacing the fallen, thus have to resort to a legal loophole in their soldiers’ contracts.

This is a horrible, real-life situation, and it pains me to be at all critical of a film that attempts to shed some light on such a hidden issue (hidden to me, that is). Unfortunately the film is a little heavy-handed. Whilst the performances are strong (Gordon-Levitt again showing us how he can go over the edge), the rather extreme plot devices can seem a little clunky. Sure, these are important issues, and the events are entirely believable in isolation, it’s just that the film piles them all on top of each other. Rather than elevate the tragedy, it feels a little too much like a midday movie.

The film also fails to capitalise on a couple of points. Brandon’s father is a Vietnam Vet, though – being a taciturn man – we never really understand how he feels about the situation. There’s also the use of what I imagine is meant to be soldiers’ home made YouTube videos, though they feel a bit too MTVy to have any emotional effect.

Kimberley Peirce has proven herself as a stunning filmmaker before (with the incredible Boys Don’t Cry), but here she doesn’t quite succeed. The film seems to lie somewhere between hard-hitting despair (The Deer Hunter) and the glossed-over Hollywood war film (Courage Under Fire). It does end on a powerful note, but the events leading up to it simply aren’t strong enough.

Rating: 3.0 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 3rd August 2008
Hoopla Factor: 3.0 stars

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