Released in March in wide release, Stop-Loss faltered and sputtered at the box office, not even making half of its budget back in combined totals both Stateside and overseas. Despite a relatively positive critical response, the film just didn’t fill seats, perhaps due to its political nature or simply because it didn’t house many big-names in the title roles. Whatever it was, Stop-Loss disappointed in theaters, but will undoubtedly find its niche on the DVD format, where movies of this caliber often find a home or stronger following.
After coming back from a tour of duty in Iraq, Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) attempts to get out of the Army and minutes before he completes his withdrawal he’s given a stop-loss order. Infuriated that he’s being forced to stay, King goes AWOL in an attempt to find help in Washington D.C. via the aid of a friendly senator he’s grown to know over the years. Along the way King discovers that he’s been black listed and unable to speak with the senator; on top of this the men he served with in Iraq are back in Texas either ready to deploy again or dealing with their own demons. King must decide whether or not to return to the Army or fight the stop-loss order and never see his family and friends again.
I’d never even heard of this film until I unwrapped the package from UPS, but seeing as I’ve grown to like Ryan Phillippe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt over the years, I actually got rather psyched up to watch this one. By the time the film finished, I was neither disappointed with it nor was I completely wrapped up in it. The film started out strong enough with these soldiers returning from a devastating tour in Iraq and quickly turned into a celebratory return for our boys. It’s all very patriotic and we get to hear both sides of the political field offered, so no one viewing the film will be truly offended if their political views are insulted.
The real meat of the film comes once Phillippe’s character receives the stop-loss order. It’s a turning point for his character, yet it never quite really fills the film with any kind of tension. We see Phillippe get angry and run off, but after that it’s just a bunch of sitting around and talking and deciding what to do. The handling of the post-traumatic stress disorder mentality of some of the soldiers here is handled much better in films like Flags of Our Fathers and In the Valley of Elah; when it came time to watch this film, I felt like I’d seen these stories done before. It just didn’t have the freshness to it as I’d hoped, but I suppose that was bound to happen with the glut of war films, especially ones surrounding Iraq, that have been hitting the cinema.
One thing I will say this film did manage to do was inform me about the stop-loss policy, although it really didn’t go into much detail as to how the Army started using it and the legalities of it all. It’s treated as a pure-evil entity and one that’s ruining soldier’s lives. A quick Wikipedia search brings up plenty of information on the policy that was never touched up on in the film; I guess the film would have to be a bit biased as it’s about a soldier running away from his orders, but even someone showing the other side of it, even briefly, would have made the film feel a bit more balanced.
Despite running near two hours, the film feels rather short in nature and we never really get a good idea of what it’s like for everyone of the soldiers shown here. Channing Tatum is the hardcore soldier who looks better suited for the marines than straight-up Army duty (though he later became a sniper, so I guess that’s just as hardcore) and Gordon-Levitt plays the soldier who can’t handle what he’s seen, drinking his way into oblivion and eventually being discharged from the Army. It’s really quite a depressing group of guys and even though I understand that war can really screw with your head and leave you feeling soul-less for life, it’s getting kind of redundant to see the same portrayals of soldiers over and over again.
Overall Stop-Loss comes Recommended just for its material, but I wouldn’t bother purchasing the film for your collection; it doesn’t have any staying power and after the first viewing you’ll be done with it. It is worth seeing, however, just to see more about the state of the U.S. Army, so if you’re interested in that then this one is worth checking out.
Stop-Loss arrives on DVD in a standard DVD case with the plain grey wash disc art that we’ve grown used to from Paramount. There’s no insert or slipcover and menus are simple and easy to navigate. Video quality for the film is a solid 1.85:1 transfer, showing plenty of detail and depth in picture, as well as a fair bit of grain and a little bit of compression at times. The 5.1 audio track gets full usages during the Iraq scenes, as well as the homecoming parade; aside from that most of the audio is front channel focused.
Moving onto the extras we first have a commentary with director Kimberly Peirce and co-writer Mark Richard. The pair make for an interesting discussion and I found their comments about the stop-loss policy here more enlightening that what the movie gave us. I guess you can only show so much in a movie that focuses only on the soldier’s side, but I still wish it would have gone into a bit more detail. Peirce and Richard talk about the production process as well, so there’s an even balance of political and technical discussion to be found here.
Next up is “The Making of Stop-Loss” (20:57), a typical making-of featurette that comes packed with cast and crew interviews as well as plenty of behind-the-scenes footage. “Featurette: A Day in Boot Camp” (10:02) shows off the training that the actors in the film went through (I would have thought Phillippe would have received some for Flags of Our Fathers, but I guess it wasn’t the strict modern-day training that they were given here). Both extras are worth checking out to see how not only how the film itself was made, but how the actors prepared for their roles. Finally we have eleven deleted scenes (18:33), all with optional commentary by Peirce. There’s some good stuff here, but it was obviously all clipped for pacing reasons.
Overall it’s a fine DVD release, but is worth only a Rental. It’s definitely worth checking out, but the material just isn’t strong enough to warrant an addition to your DVD collection.
Stop-Loss is now available on DVD.