Cover Art and Menus: 7/10
The cover of Stop Loss is a shot of the main characters lounging on a beat-up car in the Texas sun. It looks more like an ad for Abercrombie and Fitch than it does for a movie, but this is an MTV film, so anything goes. The cover doesn’t really seem to fit with the menus that pop up once you pop the disk in your player. With the exception of a dog tag on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, nothing else indicates that this movie is war related at all, but the initial menu says differently.
The menus are patriotic to say the least, with images of the main characters in their battle gear, amidst a background of the US flag and “we love the USA” style battle music. Not bad for a movie like this, and I actually thought the look was pretty effective. The patriotic theme is a bit much for my taste, but as far as menus go, this one was pretty nice looking.
Stop Loss includes a commentary by director Kimberly Peirce and co-writer Mark Richard that is decent as commentaries go. It basically describes the feel and the ideas behind specific scenes in the movie. Peirce is the main contributor, and it may be a bit dry and technical, but it’s not too bad.
Also included as extras are two short features; “The Making of Stop Loss”, and “A Day in Boot Camp”. “The Making of Stop Loss” is a 20 minute short that details Peirce’s goal to present the movie from the returning soldier’s point of view. It includes behind the scene footage and interviews with the cast and crew. “A Day in Boot Camp” is a 10 minutes short that documents the cast as they experience boot camp training. It is fun and short, and interesting to see the cast train and shoot guns in an effort to prepare for their roles. I am not sold that one day of training does any good, but at least it was entertaining to watch.
Finally there are 11 deleted scenes included with the option of listening to Peirce’s commentary about each scene, and why it did not make the final movie. The scenes are polished, but for various reasons they are left out.
Stop Loss is a story about several young men who have served our country in Iraq, as they deal with not only the violence and uncertainty of war, but also the lingering effects that their experiences have on their psyches. It is as much about the problems that they dealt with in the war zone as it is the problems that they must deal with at home. The story seems like a promising one, and the movie starts with Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) experiencing an ambush in the Iraq town of Tikrit, which has historically been known for its danger. The attack is brutal and violent, and the soldiers experience what can only be described as hell. The footage is made to look like it is shot on hand-held cameras by the soldiers, as the attack is going on. The opening sequence is very gripping, and unfortunately is the best part of the film in my opinion.
Upon returning from war, Brandon King and his buddies try to re-integrate themselves to the daily grind that is life in America. What should be a joyous time for the boys turns out to be less than fun, with each character trying to deal with their own haunting was experiences in their own way. Brandon’s war buddy Steve Shriver (played rather convincingly by Channing Tatum) ends up digging a fox hole in his fiancée’s front yard, while soldier Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is unable to keep from destroying things, and is eventually kicked out of his own house by his wife. The soldier’s also attempt to drown their sorrows and feelings in alcohol, which only adds to their problems.
When Brandon finally is set to retire, he is told that he is being sent back to Iraq for another tour, in what is referred to as a stop-loss. Basically Brandon has no choice in the matter, but he is frustrated and ends up hitting his superior in the face. He ends up going AWOL to avoid discipline, and with the help of his childhood friend, who is also his friend’s fiancée Michelle (Abbie Cornish), he sets out on a trek to Washington to see a Texas Senator who supposedly will help get Brandon out of his predicament.
Stop Loss almost seems to attempt too much. The acting seems a bit wooden and forced, and I struggled to connect with the characters. It is not as if the story did not have potential, but it seemed to me that this could have been presented in a manner that would have resonated more by taking a darker look at PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder.) It just felt like the movie skimmed the surface, and I was left with the feeling that this was a movie that was trying too hard to be something that it was not.
The acting was decent for the most part, and I liked the style of the cinematography, but overall this movie just did not do anything for me. I wanted to like it more than I did, but I just couldn’t connect to the story, and without that connection, the movie just didn’t work for me.
Video & Audio: 8/10
The video for Stop Loss is interesting, to say the least. Kimberly Peirce uses such a variety of shots and camera styles that it really is a mixed bag of video. When we get full cinematic shots, they are brilliant, and clean. Peirce also uses quite a bit of simulated “hand held” shots that are supposed to be taken by the characters in the film with home video cameras, and as such, the shots are grainy and blurry in areas. The result is a nice mix of shots that run the gamut of color and clarity. Of course, this mix is planned, so the overall video is pretty well done. I thought the colors were bright and a majority of the movie looked really good.
The audio was exceptional (I fell like I say this for most of the movies that I have reviewed.) There was great range in this movie, from quiet dialogue moments to full on surround sound fun, and it all was crystal clear. There was a lot of bass, clear mid ranges, and the highs were excellent.
I am a little bit torn on Stop Loss. Part of me thinks that this is worth a rental just for the ideas presented in the film, and the commentary on the seemingly never-ending war that is really having a devastating effect on the young men and women that our country is sending to Iraq. The problem is, I just don’t feel that this is a very strong film, and much of it feels like it has been done before, in a better way. I applaud the effort, but I just didn’t really click with the actors, so I didn’t really feel that connection that is so important in a film such as this. I didn’t hate the movie, but I didn’t feel that it was all that great either.
Overall Score 5/10