Sol­diers of mis­for­tune

This is the best so far of US movies on Iraq and Afghanistan, writes Michael Dwyer STOP-LOSS Di­rected by Kim­berly Peirce. Star­ring Ryan Phillippe, Ab­bie Cor­nish, Chan­ning Ta­tum, Joseph Gor­don-Le­vitt, Ciarán Hinds, Ti­mothy Olyphant, Vic­tor Ra­suk, Linda Emo

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

15A cert, gen re­lease, 112 min IN 1999 Kim­berly Peirce made an ar­rest­ing fea­ture-film de­but with the emo­tion­ally wrench­ing Boys Don’t Cry, a fac­tu­ally based drama un­flinch­ingly ex­plor­ing the life and death of Teena Bran­don, a young wo­man who felt more com­fort­able in a male iden­tity, re­versed her name to Bran­don Teena, and was mur­dered in Ne­braska.

Hi­lary Swank, then best known for Bev­erly Hills 90210, won an Os­car for her por­trayal, but Peirce has had to wait nine years to make her sec­ond movie, Stop-Loss, in which the pro­tag­o­nist is again named Bran­don. It was in­spired by the ex­pe­ri­ences of Peirce’s brother, who was 18 when he en­listed out of post-9/11 pa­tri­otic fer­vour, and by videos his fel­low sol­diers shot in Iraq.

The movie’s ti­tle refers to a loophole that per­mits the US mil­i­tary to re­de­ploy en­listed sol­diers for “in­vol­un­tary ex­ten­sions” when there’s a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. That fate awaits Sgt Bran­don King (Ryan Phillippe) af­ter he re­turns from his sec­ond tour of duty in Iraq to a hero’s wel­come back home in Texas, where he is awarded a Pur­ple Heart. His courage un­der fire is demon­strated dur­ing a vig­or­ous am­bush se­quence in Tikrit that claims the lives of his sol­diers and of in­no­cent civil­ians.

Bran­don be­lieves he has done his duty, and he is deeply dis­il­lu­sioned. “I’m not scared, I’m pissed off,” he tells his fa­ther (Ciarán Hinds). The ela­tion of the home­com­ing is short-lived, as he wit­nesses the volatile be­hav­iour of his two clos­est army bud­dies. One (Joseph Gor­don-Le­vitt) is sui­ci­dal, and the other (Chan­ning Ta­tum) is suf­fer­ing from such se­vere post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der that his fi­ancée (Ab­bie Cor­nish) joins Bran­don when he goes on the run.

Trav­el­ling to Wash­ing­ton DC in the vain hope of a re­prieve, Bran­don en­coun­ters fur­ther ca­su­al­ties of war: the griev­ing fam­ily of a dead sol­dier, and a blinded am­putee (Vic­tor Ra­suk) at a hospi­tal pop­u­lated by maimed vet­er­ans. That se­quence in­evitably in­vokes movie images of ear­lier wars, in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and Com­ing Home (1978).

The first wave of US movies on the con­flict in Iraq and Afghanistan has pro­duced mostly well-in­ten­tioned but dra­mat­i­cally in­ert and un­in­volv­ing ef­forts ( Ren­di­tion, Redacted, The King­dom, Li­ons for Lambs). Su­pe­rior in ev­ery re­spect, Stop-Loss does not carry quite the same ac­cu­mu­lat­ing pow­er­ful charge as Peirce’s ear­lier film, per­haps be­cause she was work­ing with a much broader agenda, and the only prin­ci­pal fe­male char­ac­ter is sur­pris­ingly un­der­de­vel­oped, al­though Aus­tralian ac­tress Cor­nish com­pen­sates with a ‘’strong screen pres­ence. Phillippe, who con­tin­ues to grow as an ac­tor, vividly cap­tures Bran­don’s dilemma in a per­for­mance that ef­fec­tively blends in­ten­sity and sen­si­tiv­ity.

Gifted Bri­tish cin­e­matog­ra­pher Chris Menges, who shot Michael Collins and The Killing Fields, cap­tures the chaos of war as adeptly and at­mo­spher­i­cally as the nervy ur­ban set­tings of Stop-Loss. As Peirce di­rectly ad­dresses the hu­man toll on all the young lives lost or blunted in this war, her heart­felt, un­set­tling film is marked with the in­tegrity and un­sen­ti­men­tal com­pas­sion she in­vested in Boys Don’t Cry.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.