Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews




picture - Stop-LossFilm Review

by John Topping

published March 28, 2008



rated R

now playing nationwide


One of the lines the main character barks in the new Iraq war film Stop-Loss is, “With all due respect, Sir, f*ck the president.”  It would be fascinating to record every single audience reaction of every single screening of this one line in the film.  My blue-state audience had an adequately-expected response, but I’m sure there will be many theaters this weekend where the audiences literally go wild; and, in these times, it will get whoops and hollers in red state territories as well.


Stop-Loss makes many important statements that need to be said and that we want to hear.  Unfortunately, it has fashioned a story around making those important statements, rather than being a story that is organic to the important statements it’s making.  As a result, noticing the constant weaknesses of the writing becomes a distraction.


Ryan Phillipe plays the American soldier who returns home to Texas, shortly after having led  his squadron into an ambush, to soon find that he has been stop-lossed and has to go right back.  He furiously refuses and goes AWOL, traveling to DC with the unrealistic expectation that a senator he personally knows will help get him out of the situation (could he really be that naïve?). 


Contrived obstacles are thrown in front of every character from the word go.  They’re more forgivable in the early Iraq scenes, but once Phillipe and the rest of the boys are back in America, they usually have no ring of truth.  Towards the end of the film, an emotionally important scene takes place in no particular place or time – a car at night? why are they parked? what did they go there for? why did he choose this time to say what he had to say? – and reveals in a flashback a piece of information that has been particularly troubling him (and which we didn’t really need in order for us to “get” that he’s been through a horrifying experience).  Although the rest of the film is not this nakedly undigested, it is emblematic of the randomness of events that permeates it as a whole.


This is director Kimberly Peirce’s second feature film, following a nine-year hiatus after her indie hit Boys Don’t Cry.  A friend who saw it at the same screening (although he sat many rows behind me, off to the side rather than in the center, and left with his date before it was over) was surprised to learn this fact, because it had reminded him of Boys.  Although enthusiastic about film, he is not knowledgeable about film trivia, so it was interesting to hear how he made the connection.  The answer was that it was a portrait of young white American men who seemed dangerous and scary to be around.  And indeed, they do seem like frightening people; if you were unexpectedly congregating with them, you would start looking for an exit strategy immediately, no pun intended. 


If this were theater, this would probably be a workshop production, a work in progress being shown to gauge the audience reaction.  Lots of good stuff to develop, but time to take it back to the drawing board before opening big.  Perhaps the legendary sophomore slump of filmmakers is inevitable and must simply be gone through rather than avoided, no matter how many years are between films.  This slump, at least, has noble intentions.


johntopping @


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