Pierce#039;s film signals no Stop to failed Iraq flicks

by Beacon Staff • April 2, 2008

Told from three returning soldiers' points of view, Stop-Loss hones in on the lives of what we are meant to perceive as simple, everyday American folks who claim to love their country and support the troops.,Stop-Loss is a well-meaning film by Kimberly Pierce that attempts, rather naively, to shed light on the subject of U.S. soldiers coming home from Iraq.

Told from three returning soldiers' points of view, Stop-Loss hones in on the lives of what we are meant to perceive as simple, everyday American folks who claim to love their country and support the troops. Like Tommy Lee Jones' everyman Hank Deerfield in In the Valley of Elah, actors Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's main objective in this film is to prove, with their tacked-on Texan accents, that Stop-Loss is anything but a biased liberal rant against the Bush administration.

Unfortunately, when a film makes a conscious effort to appear authentic and entirely apolitical, as is the case not only with Stop-Loss, but with the majority of the Iraq-themed dramas that have come out in the past year, it ends up coming across as just the opposite. Pierce's new film, though earnest and heartfelt in moments, is yet another single-minded message movie about the Iraq war that leaves nothing to the viewer's imagination. Not surprisingly, it opened with a paltry $4.5 million last weekend, and will continue to evaporate from the collective consciousness of moviegoers in the weeks to come.

Some optimists in the industry were hoping that Stop-Loss, with its hip young cast, would be able to break free from the financial failings of just about every Iraq themed motion picture that have fizzled at the cinemas as of late. The advertising for the film made it seem like an extended Abercrombie photo shoot and, in many ways, that is exactly what the film's collective talent amounts to.

Watching Phillippe and Tatum wrestle half-naked in their boxer briefs may make teenage girls swoon, but one has to wonder why Pierce, the intensely introspective director of the harrowing, character-driven Boys Don't Cry, casts a bunch of Aryan-looking beauties (including Abbie Cornish) in gritty and unglamorous lead roles. The chiseled and perfectly-tanned actors strut around on screen, attempting to immerse themselves in their pained characters, but never at any moment do any of them, aside from Levitt who is a remarkable actor, look comfortable or correct in the roles created for them by Pierce.

Even when Phillippe's character Brandon, after being re-recruited back to Iraq, attempts to flee the country in protest, Stop-Loss invests a minimal amount of time in his war-torn internal struggles, which are necessary for audience members to see and sympathize with in order to understand the overall arch of his journey. However, Stop-Loss' characters, much like the ones that shout and preach their way through every dreadful sequence in Gavin Hood's Rendition, take a back seat to the director's overbearing message about the mental damage inflicted on soldiers forced to go back to Iraq. The great of irony of this, of course, is that we never actually see this mental damage correctly envisioned by Pierce, who is too busy walking on egg shells over political matters of patriotism and dissent to unearth any real pulse beneath the loaded symbolism of her leading men.

Stop-Loss has proven once again that films about the war in Iraq have no business in the cinemas at this time in our history. We can no longer blame the supposed ignorance of moviegoers for avoiding these relentlessly unenjoyable features. Hollywood is known for making great, politically-relevant films that come out a couple years after the fact, once the dust has cleared and enough time has passed to allow the films to succeed as both a political statement and as a piece of entertainment. Historically, that's the way movies, especially war-themed ones, have always been. Everyone seems to be expecting the next Deer Hunter or The Best Years of Our Lives to come out into the cinemas at any given moment, but the Iraq war has not ended yet and filmmakers still do not have enough hindsight to build up an appropriately profound movie about the subject.

A furious, brilliant film will undoubtedly be made on this subject in due time but right now we are in the midst of a crisis that, as of now, has no conclusion to draw from.