A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this mature war drama features some pretty graphic violence, including shootings, explosions, and angry fistfights, all of which result in bloody injuries, broken bodies, and deaths. These images appear both in present-time and in traumatic flashbacks. There are some sexual allusions and rowdy slang; other language includes frequent use of "f--k" and other obscenities.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Brandon's (Ryan Phillippe) time in Iraq has been hectic and hard, but he and his buddies have grown close, and now they're eager to head home. But before they leave, they suffer through one more terrible day in Tikrit, including an ambush that leaves some soldiers dead or injured. STOP-LOSS then cuts to small-town Texas, where Brandon, his best friend and fellow sergeant Steve (Channing Tatum), and fellow veterans Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Isaac (Rob Brown) are having trouble readjusting to civilian life. Brandon's unease is turned on its head when he learns he's "stop-lossed" -- re-enlisted against his will to help maintain troop levels in Iraq. Brandon goes AWOL and, accompanied by Steve's unhappy fiancée Michelle (Abbie Cornish), drives to Washington, D.C., intending to plead his case. But what he learns along the way is that he has no good options.
Is it any good?
Kimberly Peirce's movie makes an impassioned case against the stop-loss policy by considering the costs of war and sense of betrayal felt by U.S. troops. It does this in several ways, some of which are more effective than others. While Michelle is a great sidekick -- tough, smart, and angry -- the fact that the male troops' traumatized reactions are basically a collector's set of stereotypes is unfortunate; Brandon is the anguished moral center, Steve the gung-ho hero, etc. Similarly, Brandon and Michelle's travels are punctuated by encounters with obvious "lessons": a crew of punks, a family dealing with a son's death, a veteran on the run who can't look after his sick child.
Despite these structural issues, Stop-Loss offers dense, compellingly detailed situations, especially concerning the young soldiers' efforts to rethink what it means to be men. With its focus on the unhealthy rituals of manhood and male community that are encouraged by the military (specifically, a fear of otherness that translates into racism and misogyny), the film recalls Peirce's Boys Don't Cry, a remarkable excavation of gender roles and bonds. As Steve can't face life away from his comrades (and with Michelle), Brandon agonizes over deserting his friends. Again and again, the film shows how the devastating experiences and impossible expectations of young men in wartime are unjustified. These problems are only compounded by the backdrop of the war in Iraq, where, flashback scenes reveal, troops are under-equipped, under-trained, and unguided. If this message requires pretty young actors to get out to an audience, so be it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the impact of violent war imagery. Ask kids where they see disturbing images most -- on TV or the Internet -- and ask them how they deal with what they see. Families can also discuss what messages the movie is sending about war and the military. Is it the job of movies and TV shows to examine important social issues and current events? What other movies can you think of that have handled big topics in a similar way? How does this movie showcase the problem of stop-loss? Does it offer any solutions or resolutions?
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