Decorated Iraq war hero Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) makes a celebrated return to his small Texas hometown following his tour of duty. He tries to resume the life he left behind with the help and support of his family and his best friend, Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), who served with him in Iraq. Along with their other war buddies, Brandon and Steve try to make peace with civilian life. Then, against Brandon's will, the Army orders him back to duty in Iraq, which upends his world. The conflict tests everything he believes in: the bond of family, the loyalty of friendship, the limits of love and the value of honor.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Nearly a decade after helming the Oscar-winning indie 'Boys Don't Cry,' Kimberly Peirce finally got a chance to direct her first studio film, Paramount's coming-home drama, 'Stop-Loss.' Peirce and co-scenarist Mark Richard's script chronicles the travails of three closely knit friends from the time they fight together as US Army soldiers in Iraq during the Second Gulf War to their return home to a lower-middle class community in Texas. Peirce directs a very powerful drama with Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivering some of their best work. Although generally well received by critics, 'Stop-Loss' was not a box-office success, probably due to US involvement in two wars at the time. The film deserves a much wider audience on Blu-ray.
After surviving a heavy firefight in Tikrit, Staff Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe), Sgt. Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), and PFC Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) return home to an unspecified town in Texas where they have trouble reintegrating themselves into society. Brandon believes that his tour of duty is over so he becomes flummoxed when he learns that he has been reenlisted into the First Brigade for another combat tour. (He is a victim of the government's stop-loss policy, also known as a 'Back Door Draft.') Brandon disagrees with the decision and facing time in the stockade, he flees by stealing the jeep of his best friend, Steve. Brandon is declared AWOL and branded a fugitive. Accompanied by Steve's fiancée, Michelle Overton (Abbie Cornish), Brandon hits the road for Washington D.C. where he hopes to set the record straight with Texas Senator Orton Worrell (Josef Sommer).
The film shows the psychological wounds the soldiers have wrought on their families. For example, Brandon's parents have mixed feelings about their son's options. Should he travel to D.C. and protest this policy in front of the senator? On the other hand, should he stay home and stand trial at a court-martial? In addition, Michelle is distraught because Steve has been emotionally and physically abusive to her. Late one evening, Steve digs a 'ranger's grave' in the front yard where he camps out with his gun. He acts as if he is awaiting arrival of the enemy inside a foxhole or behind a bunker. Moreover, Tommy comes home a drunk and Jeanie (Mamie Gummer), his newly wed, kicks him out, triggering a downward spiral for the young private.
Ultimately, Peirce's work is about the perils that test and may tear apart the bonds of friendship between Brandon, Steve, and Tommy. The three soldiers grapple with significant PTSD issues. They have brought the war home with them. Brandon and Steve's conflicting views about military service clash in a climatic cemetery scene. Everyday settings become indistinguishable from the locales they inhabited in Iraq. While sitting on a diving board at a motel, for instance, Brandon thinks that Pvt. Rico Rodriguez (Victor Rasuk) is lying face down at the bottom of the pool so he jumps in to save him (or does he?). Peirce and her sound editors also utilize displaced diegetic sound in dramatic ways to accent Brandon's PTSD. They juxtapose sounds from Brandon's war experiences with various scenes of him on the home front.
While 'Stop-Loss' includes jarring images of carnage and maimed soldiers in a veteran's hospital, it is that unique antiwar film that may also be considered a pro-soldier film. Brandon and Steve have different opinions about soldiering but they are joined together in honor for their country. The concluding scene befits the film's tagline: 'The bravest place to stand is by each other's side.'
'Stop-Loss' appears in an aspect ratio of about 1.78:1, which is close to its original theatrical exhibition of 1.85:1. Warner uses an AVC-encoded transfer that appears virtually flawless. There are no print flaws or source defects. Minor edge enhancement seen on the DVD appears absent here. Colors during the bright, daylight scenes look rich and vibrant. Skintones appear natural without any digital manipulation. Black levels are very solid during the nighttime scenes. Contrast levels look excellent throughout. There are also some video diaries presented by the soldiers that contrast with Chris Menges's 35mm photography. The aesthetic differences are deliberate and they don't intrude upon the other. Overall, this is a quite pleasing transfer.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track sounds ultra-crisp and clean. Occasionally, the Texas-accented dialogue can be difficult to fully discern so the English SDH come in handy. 'Stop-Loss' is primarily a dialogue-driven film so non-action scenes are relegated to the center channel. The Tikrit gunfire and explosions during the Iraq sequence make full use of the front and surround channels. The right surround even picks up some distant chanting in the background before the soldiers engage in a firefight. The solo trumpet, solemn strings, and woodwinds from John Powell's original score sound warm and vibrant. When the music reaches a crescendo at the end, the subwoofer thunders.
Warner Bros. has retained all of the extra features that were originally on Paramount's 2008 DVD.
Commentary with Director Kimberly Peirce and Co-Writer Mark Richard – This track is dominated by Peirce who delivers a lot of worthwhile background material on the film's conception. She also relates some nice production stories. Initially, Peirce and Richard were recorded together but later comments appear interwoven so this track is a patchwork.
The Making of 'Stop-Loss' (SD, 21 mins.) – This is a very good making-of doc that features on-set interviews with cast and crew members.
A Day in Boot Camp (SD, 10 mins.) – A 16x9 enhanced featurette covering the basic training that the actors went through as they prepared for their roles.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Kimberly Peirce (SD, 19 mins.) – This collection of eleven deleted scenes is presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen with a "play all" option. These can be viewed with or without commentary. Peirce explains her rationale for removing the scenes, which were due mainly for reasons of pacing and redundancy.
Roy King and Son
Leaving the Base
Need a Ride to Austin
Dropping Shorty Off
Michelle Offers to Drive
Veterans Support Network
'Stop-Loss' is a compelling and poignant drama about the various plights soldiers experience upon returning home from war. The film looks and sounds great on Blu-ray. It would have been nice if Warner added some new extras but the movie and disc come highly recommended.
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