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Laramie Movie Scope: Stop Loss

A mashup of the hell of war and PTSD

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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March 29, 2008 -- “Stop Loss” is a movie mashup about everything that can go wrong with military service: you can get maimed or killed, you can go crazy, and the government can “stop loss” you right back into combat duty even after you've completed your tour of duty and you think you are out of the army. This movie has got all of that and more. It has suicide, post traumatic stress disorder and the killing of Iraqi civilians, including children, who get caught in the crossfire. In short, this is a Murphy's Law movie. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

The movie starts with a lot of home video-type clips of combat and daily life scenes of soldiers in Iraq then progresses to carefully staged urban combat scenes. A combat group led by Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe of “Breach”) gets suckered into an ambush in a narrow street in Tikrit, Iraq, where one of his best friends is killed and another is badly injured. King is haunted by the memories of that deadly battle. After that, King decides to quit the Army after his current tour of duty is up. As he is mustering out he learns that he is being sent back to Iraq under the provisions of a “stop loss” order. Stop Loss was authorized by Congress after the military draft was ended and was first used in the first Gulf War and was instituted again for the second Gulf War. Some soldiers refer to it as a “back door draft.” An estimated 81,000 soldiers have recently been affected by Stop Loss provisions.

King is angered by the Stop Loss order. He argues Stop Loss is not valid since President Bush declared the Iraq war over long ago. Stop Loss is supposed to be used only in time of war. Since King is hostile, soldiers are ordered to put King in the stockade until he can be shipped out to Iraq, but he beats up his would-be jailers and escapes in a stolen military Jeep. King goes on the run with a friend, Michelle (Abbie Cornish of “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”). The idea is to go to Washington, D.C., where a friendly senator has promised help. Rapidly, King's options dry up. He learns of an underground system of AWOL military deserters hiding out from Stop Loss orders. Some have banded together for a class action lawsuit. Others have fled the country. From one of these men King gets a phone number of a lawyer who can arrange a new identity and passage into Canada. King is adrift in a legal no man's land. King's wanderings are not idle. He visits a soldier in an Army hospital and visits the family of a friend who died in the war. He tells them about the fatal ambush that he mistakenly led his men into.

Some critics argue that this film is no good because it is too uneven. It is uneven because it tries to deal with everything that has gone wrong with the Iraq War and that is a lot to chew on. It is an ambitious film, but it is emotionally powerful. The characters have some depth. The human price of this war is evident in the varied reactions each character has to military service. Tommy Burgess (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt of “The Lookout”) loses his ability to cope with civilian life. Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum of “Step Up 2 the Streets”) loses his fiancée (Michelle) and feels the only place he belongs is in the Army. Both men feel betrayed by King. He is the one man who could have held them together, but he left them to deal with their own problems. That is a lot of responsibility for one man to bear, especially when he is having enough trouble dealing with his own problems. The performances by all the main actors in this film are exceptional.

This is a very depressing film because it offers no hope. The film's characters are caught in a terrible, Kafkaesque Catch 22 situation. No matter which side of the coin comes up in this military coin toss, everybody loses. There is no exit, no escape. In the end, King makes his choice. It is a reasonable choice, given the options, but depressing, nonetheless. In the end, the only answer is to end this war as soon as possible. It will take this nation, and its military forces, a long time to heal from the damage this war has caused. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2008 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)