30 March 2008

Stop Loss (2007) Directed by Kimberly Pierce

Caution: There Be Spoilers

First of all, I think it's awesome that a woman directed this. The first 5 to 10 minutes or so of the film (though it could have been longer), set primarily during an ambush on the squad led by Ryan Phillippe in Iraq, is a tense and well executed bit of action on Pierce's part. It's nice that Sofia Coppola can make an ambitious labor of love about a French queen who enjoys shoes and that Sarah Polley can make a heartfelt tribute to the ageless beauty of Julie Christie, but sometimes it's just nice to find a female director who really knows how to kick some ass. I read an interview with Pierce a while back in which she said she wasn't afraid of blowing things up. In fact, she said she enjoys it.

I suspect that this is partially why Stop Loss is, overall, more succesful than the other recent batch of Hollywood Iraq pictures. Maybe It's unfair for me to say so having not seen Lions for Lambs or Rendition, but the reviews alone indicate that, at least critically, Kimberly Pierce's film is regarded as a better statement about our times and about our present military conflicts. Rather than shaking her finger at the war at large, Pierce chooses to focus on a singe issue and celebrate the military as a group of dedicated citizens while criticizing some of its institutional policies. In its best moments, Stop Loss is less anti-war, more pro-soldier.

I say 'in its best moments', because there are moments in which Pierce can't help but indulge her Hollywood tendencies towards prostelytizing. I WISH WISH WISH WISH WISH that we could put a moratorium on ending films with little facts and statistics. If there's something you want to say in your film, you better make damn sure you say it within the context of your story. You can't just tack some information to the end and expect the audience to absorb it. Half of them are already half way to the exit.

If only the rest of the movie could have been as thrilling as the first section. Perhaps it was inevitable that the rest of the film would feel like a let down after the heights reached in the beginning, but I think the problem reaches deeper than that. The film is still working at a pretty good level as the soldiers return home and struggle to readapt to their life. But, after Ryan Phillippe's character is stop lossed and he hits the road, the film kind of loses focus. He heads to D.C. to appeal to a senator he knows, but I never really bought that as a viable option. The story kind of derails here as he goes from stop to stop on the road to nowhere, only to end back where he started.

Ryan Phillippe is definitely the star of this movie. He may have not bowled me over, but he can definitely open a film as the lead. Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon Levitt both deliver pretty solid turns as well, with Abbie Cornish backing them up as Tatum's fiance and Phillippe's traveling companion while on the run. Also, is Margo Martindale trying to be in every movie? She has the market cornered on Southern office staffers.

So, overall, is it worth seeing? I would say yes . . . but that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to rush out. The scenes set in Iraq might work a little better on the big screen, but the rest will play just as well at home. Don't be scared off by the war plot line, though. Rendition 2 this is not.

BY THE WAY, THANK YOU Kimberly Pierce! Thank you for not having Phillippe's character hook up with Abbie Cornish. Thank you for avoiding that obvious trap that SO MANY directors constantly fall into.


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