Director Kimberly Peirce made a major breakthrough with her 1999 film, Boys Don’t Cry which chronicled the real-life story of Brandon Teena, a trans-gendered teen who preferred to identify as a male and was brutally murdered when it was discovered he was born a female. It took Peirce nearly ten years to bring her next film to the screen. Stop-Loss is the story of a soldier who has willingly completed his tour of duty in Iraq, only to find himself arbitrarily ordered to return to field duty by the Army.
Released in the United States in March of 2008, reviews were mixed and the box office was tepid. Hopefully, Stop-Loss gets a second life on Blu-ray. Peirce’s film, which she wrote with Mark Richard, does away with the piousness that is so often present in war themed films, and attempts to show the broad range of emotions–-rage, fear, commitment, love of country–-soldiers and their families may go through.
The emotions of the soldiers are brought into focus during the first few minutes of Stop-Loss, which shows amateur video of a group of young soldiers. Their activity is rowdy and rude, and it’s clear that they’re not Rambo’s or angels, just products of a post 9/11 world; kids that wanted to do their duty to protect America. With exaggerated bravado, they sing “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” Toby Keith’s anthem of 9/11 payback. Just days before coming home, Staff Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe), and his men are drawn into a firefight while overseeing a checkpoint in Tikrit. Some of the men are killed, others wounded and all badly shaken. As a result, Brandon and his best friend Steve (Channing Tatum) are just glad to be leaving the army as soon as the tour is over.
Having returned home to Brazos, Texas Brandon is shocked to learn that the military has invoked its stop-loss policy, forcing him and Steve to return to Iraq for another tour of duty. Upset at what he sees as the military’s ultimate betrayal, Brandon goes AWOL. It is at this point that Brandon, and Steve’s fiancé, Michele (Abbie Cornish), go on a road trip to find a way out of Brandon’s predicament. As time passes, it becomes obvious that their journey is really a road to nowhere. As Stop-Loss progresses, it becomes clear that, especially for Brandon, there are no good outcomes. He can live as a fugitive or return to combat.
A good deal of praise goes to Ryan Phillippe. With Stop-Loss, he has effectively shed the matinee idol hunk tag put on him several years ago, and turned in an emotionally riveting performance as a man with no options. He seethes with anger and seems burdened with sadness. Kimberly Peirce deserves high praise for delivering a well crafted, even handed film about a war many of us are still struggling with.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Stop-Loss comes to Blu-ray with a fairly solid transfer. Color saturation looks quite good. The only exception is some video footage in some scenes that’s meant to exhibit poor color timing. Black aren’t as deep as they could have been, but fine detail is still above average. Skin tones look natural throughout.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is fairly immersive, allowing for the explosions of Tikrit to come through with true force, while the background sounds of Texas are clear without being obtrusive. Dialogue is clear throughout.
English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are included.
The extras have been ported over from the 2008 DVD release:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Kimberly Peirce and Co-writer Mark Richard: The two discuss the process of making the film, sharing various stories. This was clearly a passion project for Peirce, but it was stunning to learn the script went through 65 drafts!
- The Making of Stop-Loss (20:56) offers a lot of on set footage, location scouting, and even a look at the writing process.
- A Day In Boot Camp (10:01) documents the actor’s preparation at a boot camp, where they simulate military training with regiment exercises, gun lessons, ready-to-eat meals, and battle simulations. Includes candid comments from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ryan Phillippe.
- Deleted Scenes w/ Optional Director’s Commentary (18:30) eleven in all, most of these are small town Texas moments, and offer some background.