Running Time: 113 mins
Rated: Rated MA 15+ (war violence and themes, Coarse language)
'Stop-Loss' is one of those unusual terms associated with American war activity that does not immediately mean anything to the casual (or the serious) observer. Like 'rendition', it has to be explained. It actually refers to the decision concerning someone who has completed active service (today in Iraq or Afghanistan) and is to be discharged but is commanded to return to action for another tour by the military powers that be.
Once again, as with the 2007 films about the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Redacted, Lions for Lambs, this film seems to have been avoided by the American public. A pity, because these films are contributing to a consciousness about the wars as they are being fought now, not reminiscences about the past.
The film opens with a group of enlisted men who have bonded during their time in Iraq doing their roadblock duty when they are asked to follow a speeding car - which eventually leads them into an alley and an ambush. As with so many stories out of Iraq, the closeness of the action, the uncertainties, the sudden producing of guns leads to deaths of soldiers and to the deaths of innocent civilians and family members in houses. This first part of the film is quite a vivid re-creation of action and conditions.
In many ways, the film is reminiscent in its plot and situations like Oliver Stone's Vietnam film, Born on the 4th July (1989). A young man is committed to his country, well motivated by patriotism, experiences harsher action than he imagined and returns home, more questioning than when he went away. The central character here, Sergeant Brandon King, a good leader but one who blames himself for what went wrong (Ryan Philippe), is not physically wounded though his friends are quite psychologically wounded (one eventually killing himself, another drinking and brutal towards his fiancée, another maimed and blinded). Their small Texas town welcomes the heroes back but does not quite know how to deal with them.
As King goes to do the paperwork for his discharge, he finds that he is 'stop-lossed'. He can either go back to active service as ordered or he can leave the US for Canada or Mexico. With the help of his friend's fiancée (Abby Cornish), he begins the process of leaving the country. However, he visits the wounded man in hospital as well as the parents of a dead comrade, his friend finds him to bring him back and he has to face what he really wants with his life: risking dangers again in Iraq or a permanent exile.
Some commentators saw the film as a piece of US patriotism. While the film respects patriotism, the key issue in obeying or disobeying the stop-loss command is far less patriotism than personal issues like family, friendship and a future at home.
The film is the director's first film since Boy's Don't Cry (1999).
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.