out of Five
Running time: 113
Kimberly Peirce's long-awaited follow-up to Boys Don't Cry is a thought-provoking, emotionally engaging drama that packs a surprisingly powerful punch.
What's it all about?
Ryan Phillippe plays Brandon King, a decorated Iraq soldier who returns home to his small Texas town after a tour of duty, alongside his best friends Steve (Channing Tatum) and Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). However, instead of the decommission he's expecting, Brandon is horrified to discover that he's been stop-lossed, meaning that he's been automatically re-enlisted against his will.
In desperation, Brandon goes on the run, accompanied by Michelle (Abbie Cornish), Steve's long-suffering fiance, who wants to help in any way she can. However, Brandon's AWOL-status infuriates his commanding officer (Timothy Olyphant) and threatens to cause trouble for both Steve and Tommy, both of whom have problems of their own.
Ryan Phillippe gives perhaps his best performance to date as Brandon, a good-hearted man struggling with his conscience over a war he no longer believes in. Tatum and Gordon-Levitt are equally good in different ways, while there's strong support from Abbie Cornish (Somersault) and Ciaran Hinds as Brandon's Vietnam vet father.
The script is superb, particularly in the subtle way it allows us to fill in the gaps for ourselves – for example, it's strongly implied that Steve has slaughtered women and children, but Brandon never brings it up, even though it's clearly on his mind. Similarly, the relationship between Brandon and Michelle doesn't play out in the way you expect and ends up all the more affecting as a result.
Aside from getting terrific performances from her young cast, Peirce keeps things moving at a decent pace and generates an extremely tense atmosphere, as we're constantly wondering how Brandon is going to get out of his increasingly bleak situation. The film is also beautifully shot, courtesy of acclaimed cinematographer Chris Menges.
In short, Stop-Loss is a sharply written, superbly acted and impressively directed drama that packs a powerful emotional punch and gives you plenty to think about. Recommended.