Director Kimberly Pierce's first film in nine years (since "Boys Don't Cry") is "Stop-Loss", an Iraq war drama about soldiers returning home after experiencing the horrors of battle. The film focuses on Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe), Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) and Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), three soldiers returning to their small Texas town after a tour of duty that included - as we see in the film's opening moments - a horrifying ambush on the streets of Iraq that resulted in the tragic loss of fellow soldiers.
While they arrive home to a warm reception, it isn't long before personal and emotional troubles weigh on the soldiers, as Tommy finds himself thrown out by his fiancee and Steve drinks to the point where he's digging trenches in the front yard. While Brandon tries to help his friends, things turn South when Brandon reports for what he believes is a discharge and finds that he has instead been ordered back to Iraq for another tour of duty due to the "Stop-Loss" rule. Against the wishes of his wife, Michelle (Abby Cornish), Steve re-enlists.
However, Brandon has to formulate a quick plan when he goes AWOL. When he recalls a senator who told him to contact him if there was ever a need for it, he decides to try to venture to DC to get any sort of help - with Michelle driving him. As he tries to get towards DC, however, there are many roadblocks in the journey - which eventually wind up steering Brandon back towards Texas. It's this stretch of the film that's uneven, as while there are some powerful moments, the
While the fact that MTV produced the film isn't exactly confidence inspiring, the only real issue that seems to come out of this appears to be the fact that an unnecessary, MTV-ready soundtrack has been added to the movie. While the movie doesn't suffer a great deal from this, it does take away from the movie at least somewhat. The style of the movie, thankfully, isn't influenced by MTV, as Pierce maintains a straightforward, appropriately bleak and serious style and tone.
The performances are also better-than-expected, with Philippe offering a very good effort as the squad leader haunted by what happened in battle and frustrated that he is being pulled back into battle despite having served his agreed-upon tour. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who's consistently surprising in dramatic roles after several years on "Third Rock From the Sun") is also powerful as Brandon's deeply troubled friend and fellow soldier. Less effective are performances from Tatum and Cornish. Cornish's performance is especially curious - it's not a bad performance, but it's a fairly limited role despite a fair amount of screen time. Additionally, despite the off-screen events that occured between the two, she and Philippe don't share much chemistry.
Overall, "Stop-Loss" could have been a tighter film and a few minor-to-mild issues could have been ironed out (the MTV-ready songs on the soundtrack really weren't needed), but when it works, it works really well - the movie manages some very powerful moments and the performances are mostly very good.
VIDEO: "Stop-Loss" is presented by Paramount in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a mostly excellent transfer, starting with sharpness and detail (aside from some video scenes and some darker scenes) that remained excellent throughout the film. Fine details - hairs, etc - were also often clearly visible in most scenes. While a few minor instances of edge enhancement were seen, the picture is otherwise clean and clear throughout the show (some minor grain is visible, but is likely an intentional element of the cinematography.) Colors look bold and saturation remains spot-on throughout the show.
SOUND: "Stop-Loss" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's early scenes in battle do offer some aggressive use of the surrounds for effects and ambience. However, once the opening portion of the film ends, the film's sound design largely folds up to the front and remains more dialogue-driven. Audio quality is fine, with clear, crisp dialogue and effects and no distortion or other issues.
EXTRAS: Commentary from director/co-writer Kimberly Pierce and co-writer Mark Richard, "making of" documentary, "A Day in Boot Camp" documentary and 11 deleted scenes with optional commentary.
Final Thoughts: When "Stop-Loss" works, it works really well - the movie manages some very powerful moments and the performances are mostly very good. The DVD offers excellent video quality, fine audio and a good set of supplements.
The Film B-