Stop Loss is the sophomore effort from writer/director Kimberly Peirce, and it is clearly motivated by the same empathetic social sensibility that made her 1999 film Boys Don't Cry such a heartwrencher. But where Boys devastatingly humanized the consequences of homophobia, Stop Loss relies on stereotypes and cartoonish oversimplification to critique the US military. It's a frustrating failure, both ideologically and creatively.
Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) is a swaggering blond war hero, returning to his Texas hometown for good after serving his full term of duty in Iraq. His regiment is on leave, and the cracks in their good ol' boy façade start to develop almost immediately: Half of the soldiers develop post-traumatic stress disorder within 15 minutes of getting off the bus. They start bar fights. They beat their girlfriends. (Don't mess with Texas, bitches.)
Brandon keeps it together (it helps to be so pretty), until he finds out that he has been stop-lossed: His term of duty has been involuntarily extended, and he's being forced into the army for another term. Refusing to go back to war, he instead hops in a car with his best friend's girl—a cowboy-boot clad hottie, natch—and road trips it to Canada, tapping into an underground network of AWOL soldiers along the way.
Peirce thinks she's created a cinematic Trojan horse: She's made a movie about Texas, of all places, where men are men and women can take a punch, but deep inside a heartland that beats to the rhythm of "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue," she's located some very legitimate concerns about the way our country treats its soldiers. If she'd ditched the road-trip subplot, steadied her "gritty" (shaky) camera, and thrown out a few of the clichéd oversimplifications that riddle the film, she might've made the powerful social commentary she was obviously aiming for. As it is, Stop Loss just makes me never want to go to Texas.