Director Kimberly Peirce, whose “Stop-Loss” marks her first film since guiding Hilary Swank to an Oscar-winning performance in 1999’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” couldn’t have picked a worse time to address her thoughts on the Iraq War. The pic takes a hard and compelling look at soldiers forced to return to battle and shipped to the Mideast against their will. Unfortunately for Peirce, audiences have decidedly and unmistakenly turned away from movies that deal with the repercussions of this particular war and “Stop-Loss” fell victim to viewer apathy, garnering a meager $11 million following its March 30 release. It deserved a far better fate, and while the DVD extras don’t provide all that much post-pic entertainment, the entire package is worthy viewing for those who missed the film the first time around.
Ryan Phillippe, often stuck between man-child roles early in his career, took a big step up in his last three films — “Flags of My Fathers,” “Breach” and “Stop-Loss” — and turned in some stellar work here, contemplating the extraordinary demands asked upon a psychologically beaten-up soldier. Co-stars Channing Tatum and upcoming Oz native Abbie Cornish offer impressive turns as well.
Peirce penned the screenplay along with and Mark Richard and both offer insight in the commentary track that helps explain their script decisions. The 20-minute making-of featurette has Peirce talking to several real-life stop-loss soldiers about their experiences, and those discussions helped her shape the material in keeping the film as accurate as possible.
One section of the interview talks about how co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt separated his shoulder and production had to be halted for two weeks. During that time, Peirce confessed, she and Richard had a chance to improve on the screenplay and the unintentional break proved beneficial.
Second featurette on the actors enduring boot camp to make their characters authentic feels a bit outdated at this point, as many war-related pics have had their thesps go through faux basic training — early morning wakeup calls, plenty of pushups and chowing down on military grub — specifically “Saving Private Ryan,” with former Marine Lt. Dale Dye.