Saving Sgt. Ryan
On first look "Stop-Loss" looks like it is a case or pretty young things playing war, heck I even saw the words MTV in the opening credits which rightly or wrong deepened my feelings that this was going to be hot young actors giving us war. In a way I am right because here we have a cast which features Ryan Phillippe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rob Brown and Channing Tatum as well as the attractive Abbie Cornish. And when it comes to the storyline well this is the often used war is hell and the men who fight come back damaged on numerous levels, sometimes sent back when they should be out. But the irony of all this is, is that whilst "Stop-Loss" is not and never will be a great drama about the ravages of war it does make those ravages understandable for an audience who don't want gritty actors with real emotions but just good looking guys delivering it simply and snappily.
Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe - Chaos) and his men return to America after their latest tour of duty and having served 11 years in the army, not only is King a decorated soldier but he is days from being out, exactly what he wants. But then he is stop-lossed, forced into returning for another tour and not wanting to return to Iraq and fight anymore goes AWOL in the hope he can get himself out of the mess. At the same time his friends who returned with him have their own battles struggling to deal with life away from the war and atrocities they witnessed leaving them physically and emotionally scarred.
I've never been part of the army, I have never been abroad to fight but for about the first 20 minutes it feels like director Kimberly Peirce has done a reasonable job of showing what it was like for a small group of troops in Iraq. We have the initial tension as they stop cars at a check point and then the frenetic confusion as they give chase to a car with people who shot at them. It maybe a bit too clean cut in the styling with are main characters looking like they just stepped out of wardrobe but the ambush in an alley with shooting from all sides and people getting killed does set the scene. And it also sets the scene as to what the soldiers had to do, killing the innocent to save themselves and get the extremist shooters.
That is just the lead up because the main story is about Brandon King and his men returning to America, which includes his friend from childhood Steve Shriver and we immediately start witnessing how the war changed them. At the party set up to welcome them all Tommy Burgess attacks a local, Steve gets drunk and Brandon finds civilian life a little alien to him. This continues with more issues as each of these men struggle to move on, relationships break down, they hit the drink, hit each other and suffer flashbacks to the traumas they encounter. Now none of which is the greatest exploration of what war does to a man but it does deliver it in a snappy way which for younger audiences who don't want heavy stories it works, it makes you realise that for many the war is never over be it choosing to return or dealing with the emotional and physical scars.
Alongside all of this we have the story of Brandon who on the day he is meant to be out of the army finds he has been stop-lossed, which means those in charge have extended his commission whether he likes it or not and are sending him out for another tour of duty. This leads to us following Brandon who is accompanied by Michelle as he goes on the run in the hope of speaking to a senator and getting out of another tour of duty. We see what it does to him going fugitive, the flashbacks taking control of his life and we also get to see he is not alone as many soldiers are stop-lossed and are forced to go fugitive. How this all pans out, well there is drama, action, brawls and emotion all delivered in the easy to follow manner which makes it very easy for young audiences to understand all about what war does to a soldier. And if it doesn't achieve it before the credits roll we get facts and figures to really hit home the number of Americans who have gone to war and the number of those stop-lossed.
As for the acting well as already mentioned this is a movie which back in 2008 featured a lot of hot young talent, the sort of actors both male and female who would appeal to a young audience. It does mean that when it comes to great performances Ryan Phillippe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rob Brown, Channing Tatum and Abbie Cornish don't deliver, they are too much of a stereotype. But then in the context of the movie, a war movie made for young audiences they are very watch able and whilst what they deliver at times borders on the macho cheesy I am sure young audiences will enjoy what they see and learn something at the same time.
What this all boils down to is that as war movies go "Stop-Loss" isn't one of them. But as a war movie made to highlight the effects of war on those involved and aimed at a young audience it works because between handsome actors, quick moments of drama interweaved with action it is simple to follow whilst also showing in a simple manner how war affects people on different levels.