Thursday, April 03, 2008

Loss for words

Like a war veteran forced back to Iraq by unfair governmental policies, there's not much to be done for Stop-Loss, which will be gone from theaters quick enough. An audience may yet materialize, as it did for the (good) sleeper hit The Bank Job, but resistance to Iraq pictures is entrenched. I can only offer a few kind words for Kimberly Peirce's homefront drama on its way to DVD and "ancillary" half-life distribution channels. It's not a great, tradition-of-quality movie: The filmmaker, whose brother served in Iraq, is close to the material, too close for lump-in-the-throat sentiment. Her sober, somber (but not joyless) approach short-circuits a few surefire sequences that needed to grab us emotionally to work more fully, and once its main character, frustrated soldier Ryan Phillippe, goes AWOL the plot goes wayward to keep him plugged into the storylines involving his fellow comrades-in-arms.

But it's still more affecting than more smoothly made, tidier pictures, with fine performances from Phillippe (capitalizing on his basic training at Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers), Channing Tatum, the excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Abbie Cornish, and Victor Rasuk, Mamie Gummer, and Linda Emond (Englishman Ciaran Hinds is a bit of a stretch as a rawboned Texan). The great cinematographer Chris Menges is thoroughly in his element; I like that the video diary sequences don't entirely break with the overall look of the film. And the closing sequence, where everything that had been diffuse comes together, is quietly devastating. Its head and heart are in the right places. Too bad it will largely be experienced at home and not communally.

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