Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Kimberly Peirce and the Art of War: With Stop-Loss, the Queer Director Comes of Age

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Kimberly Peirce and the Art of War: With Stop-Loss, the Queer Director Comes of Age

Article excerpt


SHE'S INTENSE, WITH BIG DARK EYES that come right at you. As a writer-director, Kimberly Peirce has put that intensity to work. Her 1999 debut, Boys Don't Cry, about the rape and murder of a young trans man named Brandon Teena, was so wrenching that many in the mainstream audience didn't dare to see it. But the film impacted the culture, launching Peirce as a singular talent and winning a Best Actress Oscar for its star, the then-unknown Hilary Swank.

For a while it looked as though that mighty debut would also be Peirce's farewell. Rumors linked her with various film projects, but nothing shaped up. Would she become one of the saddest Hollywood statistics--a gifted woman director who never gets a second chance?

No way. Peirce is back, with a top team behind her sophomore project. Stop-Loss, her drama of returning Iraq war vets, which opened March 28, was produced by Scott Rudin and shot by legendary cameraman Chris Menges. Visually, the film is as handsome as its stars: Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and leading man Ryan Phillippe-who, coincidentally or not, plays a character also named Brandon.

Peirce's script follows three freshly discharged young vets dealing with the prospect of returning to Iraq thanks to the military's stop-loss policy, the "back-door draft" that sends troops back for repeated tours of duty. In its ambitious bid to grapple with that policy's consequences as well as the demands of postmodern manhood,

Stop-Losslacks the cohesion of Peirce's first film. But it stands as a thought-provoking expansion of the same themes that made Boys Don't Cry so haunting.

I caught Peirce by phone amid a 22-city promotional tour.

Stop-Loss started as a personal story for you. What happened? I was in New York for 9/11. Unfortunately, I saw the towers fall. And then America entered the war. And that was a devastating turn. I knew that we were amidst this seismic cultural change.... Not long after that, my little brother told us he was signing up to fight in Afghanistan. He ended up going to Iraq. It was a profound change for my family that he was going to be there, in combat. Obviously, it was an everyday concern. Is he alive, is he safe, is he injured? Is he changing? I ended up IM'ing with him pretty much from the day he landed in Kuwait.

What did you talk about? He would tell me what his missions were, like that they were either kidnapping or clearing houses. I was very sad to hear that this was going on. As we would probe emotionally into stuff, there would be a limit. He would say, "I'm a professional soldier. I'm paid to fight, not to think. This is my job. If you go too deeply into the emotional issues, I could get killed tonight because I may be distracted from my job." The second thing that was really interesting was soldier-made videos. My brother was home on leave one day, and I was at my mother's house and I heard "Let the bodies hit the floor / Let the bodies hit the floor." I walked out and saw him just mesmerized by the television. And on it were these images, handheld. The camera was on a sandbag or a gun turret, or it was wired into the Humvee or in a guy's helmet during a firefight. You'd see boots run by, guns go off--you would hear, "We got a man down!" So you were literally in the combat zone, in the battle with the guys. Then they would go back to the barracks and cut [that video] to patriotic music like Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue," or what I like to call thrill-kill, music that's really about adre-nalizing you. …

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