Sunday, April 27, 2008


What do you get when you marry MTV productions with a brilliant director? What do you get when you try to convey a serious subject to the teeny bopper crowd? Well, you get Stop-Loss.

Young people are going to hate me for this comment, but it's true. Not all of course, but many young people are not interested in films about the horrors of the Iraq war or about our government's disrespect and disregard for truth and honor. No, most young people are too busy playing on Facebook, MySpace, and/or trying to get laid. When they do go to the theater, they find raunchy sex comedies such as Superbad and horror porn such as Hostel and Saw far more appealing. So, the most fatal flaw for Stop-Loss is the filmmakers' attempt to cater the message to a group of people who just don't give a shit. The only way they are going to give a shit is if we institute a draft. A crappy, beat-'em-over-the-head flick is certainly not going to truly drive the message home. The only thing it was able to drive was me...away from the theater.

I will admit that Stop-Loss has good intentions. Everyone should know what our government is doing, and that they literally use and abuse those who were brave and generous enough to fight for them in the first place. However, the message got lost the way waffles get lost when a toddler drowns them in syrup.

No where will one find a more important movie about what war does to men than In the Valley of Elah. That film handled the subject of the horrors of war making monsters of men deftly, beautifully, and probably with the most important word, subtlety. Stop-Loss, unfortunately, does not have the capacity to own any of those key terms. It merely hammers us incessantly with message.

Look, I get it. No one is as baffled (still to this day) that George W. Bush is our president. God, that hurt to write. "President" and "W" in the same sentence; I will feel that for hours. I hate war as much as the next war hater. And I also feel as much animosity for our government for forcing our nation's bravest back into a war zone that they should never have been in the first time, let alone a second time. However, the frenzied, over-the-top manner in which director Kimberley Peirce exploits our contempt and her soldiers' brooding is nauseating.

None of these soldiers look like soldiers. They look like celebrities in camouflage. They look like poster children for the MTV crowd. Oh, look at that hunky Ryan Phillippe emote. Oh, baby, watch Channing Tatum work those abs as he looks for someone to bruise. Again, tailoring the message to teeny boppers shot this movie in the foot.

Stop-Loss wears all its emotions on its sleeves. There are no layers to dig into; no complexity to decipher. This movie is a 113 minutes barrage of bad manners. Everyone we meet is torn about the war, everyone we meet is harmed by the war, and everyone we meet has no brain cells about how to go about fixing the problem. I get it. This war sucks. And as Phillippe barks in the film, "Fuck him (our President)," but the film does not try tackle its subject matter with heft or with any sort of real moral conflict.

As for me, I am at a loss... why did Kimberly Peirce wait 8 years to follow up her brilliant and important Boys Don't Cry with this garbage? How come we finally get a brilliant female director with her take of war on the screen, and it looks like an adolescent male's vision? With the exception of surprisingly no female flesh exposed, Stop-Loss looks and feels exactly as it would as if it had been directed by a man. 

Ok, time for me to stop... still at a loss.


Utah Savage said...

Well, finally. I almost gave up. I kept coming back to check to see if you had finally processed your take on Stop Loss. I am an old woman, who watched the Vietnam war unfold on the nightly news. We saw the death told rise daily. We kept waiting for that tipping point when public outrage would reach critical mass. Now we can't see the dead come back in their flag draped coffins because, gandma Babs is offended. We are in the middle of a presidential primary race and since the economy is tanking and the earth is burning, we don't have any coverage of the Iraq war, other than a few carefully edited clips of General Patraeus giving the administration's talking points to Congress. Now we have Hillary mentioning (oh so casually) that she too would OBLITERATE IRAN if they attack say, for instance, SAUDI ARABIA?

Any anti Iraq war movie is better than no anti Iraq war film. I saw this movie with a man a little older than I--that makes us both old and history buffs. He is a retired history professor. We both like serious film. We agreed that in the Valley of Elah was a great movie. Any idea how many people saw that movie? Yes, it got an oscar nod. A very small oscar nod. I don't think Stop Loss is oscar material, but it is worth seeing. For all of us. Young and old. We go to matinees during the middle of the week when no one else is in the theaters because I hate people. I hate the way people behave in theaters. We were not alone at the viewing of this film. There was a middle aged couple there with their teenaged son. I have no idea how they managed to get a teenaged child to accompany his parents anywhere, but I imagined that they wanted him to get some idea what he might be in for if he enlisted to be "all that he could be." I'm not a film reviewer, but I was moved by this film. I was impressed by the direction. I did not recognize a single actor in this film, so have no other performances of theirs to compare to. But what gets me most where I live is the snarky, dismissive, not even good enough to sit through, tone of your attack on this film. I sat there sobbing at the end of this film. Does that make me an idiot? I want everyone possible to see as many anti Iraq war films possible. This is a good start. One for the "serious" viewers--In the Valley Of Elah--One for us MTV idiots? Two is twice as many as one. It is a start.

K McKiernan said...

Sorry. I am not going to jump up and down just because a movie which has good intentions or has a good message gets made crappily. I say it as I see it... and that movie ruined its chances by caring more about marketing than the point.

You say two movies are better than one... well, if its drivel and it makes people roll their eyes, then it was not worth it. I would have rather they made a serious movie with the same message for adults... young and old, for not all "young people" are MTV stupid.

K McKiernan said...

And, let me say this... I get your hunger. I want people to know and care and think about the atrocities all around us. That is why I went to the theater to see this movie.

However, no matter how hungry you are, a decaying burger pulled from your trash pile is still garbage.

Utah Savage said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vigilante said...

I do not have a dog in this fight over STOP LOSS because, with MCK's discouragement, I'll never see it. I am pausing here just to complement Utah on her ... ability to put important - critically important - thoughts and feelings into printed words. I've always liked this about her.

She has again pulled me into her camp: I think she has a powerful point. Any cheezy, campy, insipid movie about Iraq is better than none at all.

Students and connoisseurs of documentaries could start by filming our Heroes' coffins returning from Iraq. A bad documentary focusing on this would be a good start.

K McKiernan said...

Thanks for writing, Vig. Its so true what you said about a documentary needs made about coffins coming home. As a matter of fact, my husband made a sound documentary on this very subject and he interviewed a former student of mine who is a vet (he was involved in Black Hawk Down), and not too long ago, he was stopped along the highway taking snapshots of flag draped coffins being hauled away like bags of dog food with a fork lift.

He was arrested by unidentified people and detained for over 48 hours, making him miss his buddy's funeral--the reason he was there in the first place.

I never once said that Peirce should not have made the movie. I welcome all movies which have their heart in the right place; however, I sure as hell will call them on their crap if its not done well. And inform people who have little money, not to spend it unless they really really wanna.

Thanks again for writing!