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"You leave on the 22nd, shipping back to Iraq. You've been stop-lossed."
"You know that box inside your head? That box inside your head where you put all the bad shit you can't deal with? Mine's full, and it's spilling out!"
Sgt Brandon King
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Stop-Loss is a 2008 war drama directed by Kimberly Peirce, her second feature after Boys Don't Cry. Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Abbie Cornish star. Timothy Olyphant has a small but important role as a Lieutenant Colonel.

Stop-Loss refers to a controversial government policy where soldiers reaching the end of their service have their contracts extended by their superiors. This is exactly what happens to Staff Sergeant Brandon King (Phillippe); just after celebrating that his upcoming discharge, he is informed that he must immediately report back to Iraq. Refusing to go back, he goes AWOL in the hopes of changing his situation. It soon becomes clear that his only options are either to re-enlist and serve his extra time, or live as a fugitive for the rest of his life. The film also delves into the psyche of numerous young men who enlisted in the military after 9/11 and the effects their decisions have on their lives back home.

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The film originally began its life as a documentary - Kimberly Peirce travelling the country and interviewing various soldiers about their reasons for enlisting and their thoughts on the Iraq war. Along the way she decided to instead make it as a feature film, creating characters based on the various people she interviewed. Despite favourable reviews and MTV backing it, the film only made half its budget back.

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Tropes:

  • Adorkable: Rico lampshades this when he teases Brandon about Michelle. It's a notable departure from Brandon's anger and frustration throughout the film.
    "You should hear the way you sound, sarge."
  • After-Action Patch-Up: Michelle helps Brandon stitch his wounds together after a fight with some thugs.
  • The Alcoholic: Tommy takes to drinking whenever he's on leave, drives under the influence and eventually gets discharged for it.
  • Always Someone Better: Steve feels this way, especially when he's forced to deal with Brandon's usual responsibilities as the latter goes AWOL.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When Michelle asks what Iraq is like, Brandon says there's a lot of shooting and explosions - as well as loads of sheep on the road.
  • Artistic License – Geography: A Ride-On bus can be seen in one shot. That only operates in Maryland, and the movie is set in Texas.
  • Artistic License – Military:
    • The end shows Rico and Steve's brothers among the soldiers heading off to Iraq. This can't be more than a month later, so the brothers should still be in Boot Camp.
    • A man can be seen wearing an American Legion cap with his medal ribbons on the left side. American Legion policy states that nothing can be worn on the left side of the cap, bar City and State embroidery (which were not on this one).
    • The soldiers are shown firing on full auto. Only Special Forces and Rangers have weapons that do that; everyone else fires on three-round bursts.
    • Rico calls Brandon 'sir' when he visits him. Brandon is only a Staff Sergeant and can not be called 'sir' - which is only reserved for actual officers. Brandon would also not allow this, even if Rico is injured.
  • Author Appeal: Just like Kimberly Peirce's previous film, the protagonist is called Brandon.
  • Berserk Button: Subverted. When a drunk Tommy mocks Steve for his break-up with Michelle, Steve looks ready to hit him. But then he turns and walks away.
  • Black Dude Dies First: In the opening patrol, it's the Latino Rico who gets burned up first by flames. But the first character to die is the white Preacher.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Male example. Brandon is the blond, Tommy is the brunet and Steve is a light brown substituting redhead.
  • Break the Cutie: It's eventually made clear that Brandon, Steve and Tommy have all been broken at some point.
  • Call-Back: Brandon exchanges pleasantries with Rico's teenage brother when he returns. In the end scene, the brother is shown now part of the recruits heading off.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Subverted. Tommy drives drunk and, while he crashes into a mailbox, comes out otherwise unharmed.
  • Cast Full of Pretty Boys: The cast is full of actors who had heartthrob status among teenage girls - Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon Levitt. Not to mention they spend a lot of the movie in uniform. At least one reviewer claimed that the attractiveness of the cast was "distracting".
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The senator at the start who tells Brandon "anything you need". But Boot puts in a call to stop the senator from helping Brandon.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Steve is told that he's a good sniper, and demonstrates the skill casually - shooting several targets when he's just woken up from a hangover. He re-enlists and goes to sniper school as part of a deal to soften Brandon's punishment.
  • Color Wash: Any nighttime scenes have a tick yellowish tint coming from the lights.
  • Dark Secret: Brandon reveals that he had to kill an armed civilian and his young son back in Iraq.
  • The Dead Have Names: While arguing with Steve, Brandon lists the names of the three soldiers who died on their latest mission.
  • Didn't Think This Through: A few of the guys admit that they enlisted to get some measure of revenge after 9/11, only to realise the full extent of what they were getting into much later.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Jeannie turns out to be a Disposable Wife, as she throws Tommy out early in the film.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Given that Tommy and Jeannine are seen sitting together at the dance, she slaps him with a restraining order awfully quickly - in what can only be the space of a week at most. During which Tommy was only home for two days.
  • Driven to Suicide: Tommy shoots himself after getting a dishonourable discharge.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: At one point - notably after Michelle has ended her engagement and Brandon won't be able to go to the senator for help - they go to a bar and just do shots of tequila.
  • Downer Ending: Brandon chooses not to live as a fugitive and serve his extra term in Iraq. He's surely going to see more friends die and have to endure more horrors there.
  • Due to the Dead: Brandon returns to his hometown to pay his respects to Tommy's grave. Played with in that he and Steve have a fistfight almost immediately after. Before this, Tommy was given a funeral with full honours, despite getting discharged.
  • Dumb Muscle: Steve thinks of himself as this.
  • Fan Disservice: Brandon is shirtless at one point - where he's cleaning blood off himself and stitching some of his wounds together.
  • Fanservice: The scene of Steve digging a foxhole in Michelle's garden has him only in his boxers. He also only puts pants on when he wakes up the next morning.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Tommy aggressively starting a fight with a guy who flirts with Jeannie.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Michelle is treated like this by the rest of the soldiers, even though her actual personality is quite different.
  • A Father to His Men: Played for Drama. Brandon is The Heart of his squad and when he goes AWOL, things quickly fall apart.
  • From Bad to Worse: Tommy is already an alcoholic who gets slapped with a restraining order from his wife. He eventually gets kicked out of the army and shoots himself as a result.
  • The Heart: In addition to being A Father to His Men, Brandon also fills this role. As such they're lost without him when goes AWOL.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Despite the rocky patch they go through in the story, Brandon and Steve are ultimately proved to be good friends.
  • Honor Before Reason: Brandon takes a detour on the way to DC to visit Preacher's family and pay his respects. Had he not done that, he might have met with the senator before Boot put in a call.
  • I Will Wait for You: This was the case with Steve and Michelle but she decides she can't keep it up when he re-enlists.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: In their argument at the graveyard, at one point Steve falls down and wails "I don't know you anymore!"
  • Innocence Lost: Tommy is the youngest of the soldiers, and he's suffered lots of trauma - namely his best friend dying at the beginning, his growing alcoholism and the rocky marriage with Jeannie.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Brandon has blue eyes, which help show how Break the Cutie is in full force. The last shot of the movie is even of his eyes.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: When Brandon and Michelle visit the hospital, Michelle plays pool with a solider who has prosthetic limbs.
  • Ironic Echo: After Steve has a bruise on his face from his rough housing with Michelle, Brandon chews him out and sarcastically asks if he'll try to pretend he walked into a door. Later when Steve finds Brandon with a nasty cut on his face - from attacking three muggers - he says the same thing.
  • Local Hangout: A forest cabin just outside of town called "the ranch".
  • Loophole Abuse: The stop-loss policy is a form of this. Soldiers reaching the end of their service can have their terms lengthened if the government chooses so. There's usually a clause in the initial contract saying that this can happen.
  • Mangst: As the protagonists are soldiers from Iraq, there's a lot of this - over the friends they lost and the men they had to kill. Steve and Tommy also have considerable angst about their purposes in life.
  • Manly Tears:
    • Just before Brandon prepares to leave for Mexico, his father is seen tearing up as soon as Brandon looks away.
    • After their brawl at Tommy's funeral, Steve starts crying at the thought of what Brandon is about to do to himself.
    • Brandon is on the verge of tears when he gets news of Tommy's death.
  • Morton's Fork: Brandon can either go back to Iraq and serve an additional term - risking death and guaranteed to watch more friends die. Or else he can go AWOL and live as a fugitive - moving to a new location and never seeing his family and friends again.
  • My Greatest Failure: Brandon's "box in your head" speech leads to him saying this. Everyone he got killed still haunts him.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: During Tommy's funeral Jeannie is seen with an expression on her face that says she feels she is partially responsible - and is horrified as a result.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Steve and Brandon are childhood friends but Steve doesn't have much of a Texan accent.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Brandon and Michelle are clearly good friends, and she offers to drive him across state lines. Although she breaks up with Steve, their interactions are never anything more than platonic. When Brandon visits Rico, he seems to think there's something going on between them but it's still left ambiguous. Word of God is that they are Platonic Life-Partners.
  • Not So Different: Brandon is furious with Steve for hitting Michelle during a drunken hallucination. Later on, he gets violent too. Although he doesn't strike her, he does throw her aside rather aggressively.
  • Not What I Signed Up For: The guys allude to this, being unprepared for the horrors of the war.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Two of the men in the unit, one nicknamed Preacher and the other Eyeball.
  • Out of Focus: Jeannie rarely gets lines or scenes to herself, despite her marriage to Tommy having a big effect on the plot.
  • Plenty of Blondes: Most of the supporting female cast are blondes - Michelle, Jeannie, Brandon's mother.
  • The Pollyanna: Rico and another paraplegic soldier in the hospital are shown being positive and upbeat despite their situation. This was Truth in Television - as the actor playing Rico met with a soldier in a similar situation, expecting him to be angry and bitter. Instead he was doing his best to maintain a positive attitude.
  • Precision F-Strike: "With all due respect, sir, fuck the president".
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: LTC Boot seems to be this, as he's seen being kind to the men as they prepare to go on leave and he also seems understanding of Brandon's frustration at being stop-lossed. His offer for Brandon to turn himself in within a set amount of time free of charge is very lenient - considering Brandon spoke out of turn, assaulted two other men and went AWOL. Presumably this is why Brandon eventually takes the offer.
  • Returning War Vet: Brandon hopes he'll be this...until he runs into the titular stop-loss.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Preacher, who gets killed in the opening battle. To a lesser extent, Rico, who merely gets injured very badly.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: The men have all served five years in Iraq and carry visible scars of their experiences. Steve gets drunk and instinctively starts digging a foxhole in his girlfriend's garden. Brandon hallucinates that he sees a soldier drowning in a swimming pool, and continually hears the sounds of bullets ringing in his ears.
  • Spiritual Successor: Certain elements of the film make it seem like a Setting Update of The Best Years of Our Lives - about soldiers returning from World War II.
  • Stepford Smiler: Implied with Rico when Brandon visits him in the hospital. He keeps up a happy face but the final shot shows him looking uncertain about his situation - heavily implying that he's just putting on a brave face.
  • The Stoic: Brandon tries to keep it together for most of the film, but he loses his temper first when he finds out he's been stop-lossed and secondly when a bunch of thugs rob his car.
  • Tomboyish Name: Brandon gives Michelle the nickname 'Mitch'.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Brandon is seen packing away Tommy's uniform and canteen in a box to take with him to Mexico.
  • "What Now?" Ending: The film ends with Brandon and Steve sitting together on the bus, about to head off to Iraq - clearly unsure if they're doing the right thing.
  • When She Smiles: When Rico teases Brandon about bringing Michelle, Brandon breaks out into an Adorkable grin. It's a massive change from his angry or stoic nature for the rest of the film.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: This is what soldiers who flee stop-loss face; they can be given new identities and move away, but they can never return home or see their families again.
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