Magazine article The American Conservative

No Exit

Magazine article The American Conservative

No Exit

Article excerpt

[Stop-Loss]

WATCHING "Stop-Loss" in a nearly empty Washington theater, I had a fantasy. On the back row sat the staff of the Weekly Standard. Then the senators who make windy speeches about "fighting terrorists there so we don't have to fight them here." Maybe a row of radio-show hosts who play "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue" from the safety of their studios. Then right in front, the president and his war cabinet, spending two hours with the pawns they keep sending back to the bloody chessboard. Three tours. Four. Five.

Of course it didn't happen that way. Not only did D.C. skip "Stop-Loss," the rest of the country did too. It opened in seventh place at the box office. Americans aren't looking to be entertained by something they'd like to ignore. I counted just nine heads in the dark--three with haircuts indicating they had already seen plenty.

"Stop-Loss" is less a great movie than a worthy experience. It isn't meant to be enjoyable. The film opens in Tikrit with a jangle of images, grainy and unfiltered, narrated in the dialect Tom Wolfe called "F- -k Patois." Boredom cuts to piety turns to joking shifts to terror.

Staff Sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe), nearing the end of his second tour, leads his men into an alley ambush. Only half walk out. Stamped on the young Texan's brain: his friend's bloodied face, a grenade rolling across the floor, bullet holes in a child's chest. The images follow him home.

Director Kimberly Peirce found inspiration in the hand-held videos shot by her brother's friends while he served in Iraq. The messiness suits her, and she doesn't press hard after a point. Apart from a few soapbox moments, "StopLoss" doesn't sermonize about the morality of the Iraq War. The human wreckage suffices.

King's unit returns to Texas, but Peirce doesn't allow the tension to dissipate. Her young men are still tight-wound and combat-ready. They endure their parade, kiss their girls, then embark on a full tour of the Little Shop of Horrors that is post-traumatic stress disorder. Binge drinking? Check. Random rage? On full display. Pulling guns on strangers? Impotence? Hallucinations? Flashbacks? Abuse? All present. When a troubled soldier walks over a hill, it's a safe bet that he won't be back. …

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