By Fred Topel | Image property of Paramount Pictures
Stop Loss would have been a great idea for a movie in any era. It could be some distant future where troop levels are so low they have to send them back. Of course, it probably only got made because it's really happening now. Either way, Stop Loss ranks with Full Metal Jacket and Saving Private Ryan as one of the best wartime dramas.
The war scenes are suspenseful. There's a car chase through Iraq. That's something I've never seen before. You can understand the tactics of what's going on, and there are plenty of touches of upsetting violence.
You see the troop's camaraderie without obnoxious stereotypes. Yeah, they call one guy Tex Mex but mainly they just sing together. Singing. That shows a bond more than any inane cliché banter could. The video diary segments are unobtrusive too, sensitive even.
When they get home, their party is hot. These guys deserve all the groupies who want to throw themselves at the uniform. I'm not a loud noisy crowd type of guy, but even I'll give 'em that.
Of course it gets uncomfortable as symptoms start to emerge. Racial talk doesn't go over as well domestically and post traumatic stress starts manifesting in believable ways. The issue is that these are inarticulate but sensitive guys. They may not have words like me to express themselves, but they have souls I can't touch.
Political rhetoric, even the vulgar kind, comes in frustration so it plays real, not like a filmmaker's statement. Hey, if you just got home from a tour and heard they were sending you back, you might say, "F*** the president" too.
It becomes sort of a domestic action movie with a guy on an adventure to D.C. and all the conflicts he faces along the way. Scenes on the run are less dynamic than the scenes of the group interacting, in happy or sad times, but it's what the film had to be about. They weren't going to make a film about discussing policy with politicians. They give you enough reunions to keep the spirit going throughout.
It shows the consequences of dodging these orders, so it's certainly not a happy "screw authority" movie. They talk about the issues with each point of view represented. It shows what hopeless young boys turn to. They get metaphorical at times, but they are simple obvious metaphors that don't betray where they were coming from in the beginning.
The really profound thing about Stop Loss is that it's tragic either way. If he goes back, it's tragic because he's risking his life, but if he dodges, he's essentially losing his life anyway. That's the sort of no-win situation Paul Haggis always talks about, but these guys delivered.