Support Local Journalism. Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club.

Iraq War movie Stop-Loss does its best not to mention the war 


Stop-Loss addresses the unpleasant aftershocks of our latest unpopular war — the maimed bodies and marriages; the PTSD; the loss of faith in God, Uncle Sam, and Chief George — from the perspective of the soldiers themselves. It could easily have been called The Worst Years of Our Lives. Soldiers come back to the good old U.S. of A. — some upright, some on wheels. On cue, they begin to go a little bit crazy, picking bar fights, convulsing with night terrors. Not long after, one GI decides to blow his own head off, another voluntarily reenlists, and a third goes AWOL.

Of course, it's hardly director Kimberly Peirce's fault that life has chosen to imitate . . . life, and for all of the film's innate familiarity, there are moments in Stop-Loss that crackle with uncanny verisimilitude. Following a nerve-fraying firefight between U.S. soldiers and Iraqi insurgents in a narrow Tikrit alleyway, the movie really springs to life, once it touches down deep in the heart of Texas, where three survivors of that ambush — Sergeants Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) and Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), and a fellow officer, Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) — return to their families amid much pomp, circumstance, and streaming tinsel. In high school, Brandon and Steve were star players on a championship football team; now, they're another kind of conquering hero, pinned with medals for valor by a smiling senator. As she ably demonstrated in her previous film, the Oscar-winning Boys Don't Cry, this is the sort of thing that Peirce does very well: She puts blue-collar, red-state American life onscreen without glib irony or smug disdain.

Stop-Loss is on considerably shakier ground once the title — shorthand for a loophole in military contracts that allows soldiers to be redeployed in wartime even after fulfilling the terms — comes home to roost, and Peirce shifts her focus from the vicissitudes of small-town life to one man's fight against the military-industrial complex. "You're going to send me back for 11 more years?" Brandon asks incredulously, upon receiving his new orders from his suitably oily superior (Timothy Olyphant). "Fuck the president!" Brandon adds for good measure. That's about as political as Stop-Loss ever gets. Like Coming Home, it doesn't oppose the war at hand per se; it objects uniformly to all wars that leave our fighting men in various states of physical and psychological paralysis. It's a work of blanket pacifism.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Latest in Screens

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 20, 2021

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


Staff Pick Events

  • The Haunted Cinematheque @ Cleveland Cinematheque

    • Thu., Oct. 28
  • Season's Bleedings @ Capitol Theatre

    • Sat., Dec. 4

© 2021 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 505-8199
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.

Website powered by Foundation