The latter happened during the trailer for Stop Loss, just before Christmas. It screamed, "STOP: this is an important film!", and the yippie couple in front of us were all "right on, preview!", so I couldn't help myself. (Still, I probably deserved that elbow she planted in my side). When I told her I was going to see Stop Loss this weekend she couldn't understand...
[NOTE: Why must I constantly explain this?: 1. I like movies. 2. I like thinking about movies. 3. I like writing about movies. 4. I can't do #2 or #3 without seeing movies.]
... "What !? (sigh), if you end up liking it I'll give you $10 (BIG sigh with a slight push-off and a roll of the eyes)". Well, she can keep her $10, but she owes me at least $1.35.
The first 30 minutes of Stop Loss are pretty good. Instead of slamming us with her personal take on the war in Iraq, director Kimberly Pierce gives the spotlight to the soldiers. Their digital video montages and base camp camaraderie feels natural and relatable to today's 25 and under generation. Dialogue like, "Don't fire yet, there are too many civilians", and "We should just drop a bomb on the entire country" express a soldier's frustration with feeling honorable, angry, and homesick at the same time.
Pierce even brings a rare Hollywood sensitivity to small-town Texas when the soldiers arrive, while on leave, at a welcoming party in their home of Brazos. The excitement and sincerity with which Pierce films the parade - adorned with stars and stripes on everything from caps to light posts - is refreshing after Richard Kelly's snotty and hateful take on Abilene,TX, last year, in the dreadful Southland Tales. But after Brandon (Ryan Phillipe) gets stop-lossed, Pierce flips the switch, and her film goes south.
Her free and easy point-of-view gives in to the urge of delivering crowd-pleasing "message" scenes:
1. Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) singing "courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue" - from that Toby Keith song - as he walks off to commit suicide.Moments like these betray what Pierce had accomplished in the film's first quarter. Her open mind gets clouded by agenda. Surely, making a film that revolves around a story of stop-lossed soldiers provides for a timely and provocative film, but by not accounting for the soldiers whose lives have benefited from volunteering for service, Stop Loss feels dishonest. The only conclusion we're left with is that serving in the military destroys your home, health, and heart.
2. Rico (Victor Rasuk), already without one leg and one arm, saying he would go back to Iraq and die "just so my family could get green cards".
3. A fellow AWOL soldier - living in a dilapidated motel where room numbers are written in permanent marker - telling Brandon that he's fleeing to Canada so his sick child can get better health care.
and the worst...
4. Brandon calling Steven (Channing Tatum) "stupid" for re-enlisting.
What I'd really be curious to hear, are the thoughts of Iraq War veterans after watching Stop Loss. From soldiers who are against the war, to soldiers who are for it, to soldiers that feel like they're just doing their job. Not that Kimberly Pierce's view is unwelcome. Her brother was stop-lossed. I just think, with a movie like this, the best film critics could be our soldiers.