Suffers from mixed messages and performances
The film does well on examining the humanity of war and the devastating after-effects it has on its soldiers. Unfortunately, the film is plagued with wooden or over-the-top performances that never fully translate the impact of the characters’ actions. As Steve, Tatum remains expressionless most of the time, marginally summoning actual emotion only when it is absolutely essential. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who delivered a fantastically nuanced performance in last year’s THE LOOKOUT, rants and raves here. He fills the typical role of dark, moody wild child but adds no further dimension to it between his manic ups and downs. Couple that in with spotty southern accents from most of the cast and you’ve got what this film offers; a bunch of attractive, marketable faces with no real substance underneath.
However, any success the film has must be credited to Phillippe and Cornish. The real impact of the film rests on Brandon’s journey, and Phillippe does not disappoint. He gives the most layered and focused performance of his career; showing genuine emotion in spades when the others cannot. The film teeters on near-ridiculous melodrama as it is, but Phillippe remains genuine throughout. In the hands of a more bombastic actor, the film would have veered into soap opera-like dramatics with no chance of recovering. Cornish acquits herself too in a rather limited role; when faced with the possibility of being stuck between friend Brandon and fiancée Steve, she sidesteps being the wishy-washy girl who can only watch, as the script points her to.
The filmmakers make it clear that the act of stop-loss is a terrible thing, but focuses its argument almost exclusively on that. The affects of war are touched on explicitly, but no statement is ever really defined, leading the film to an ending that feels incomplete. While it does raise questions for the viewer to contemplate themselves, they will inevitably be influenced by the anti-war track followed throughout most of the film. And despite the strong presence of Phillippe and Cornish, add in the mixed message with the unconvincing performances and you’ve got STOP-LOSS. It is a film that has all the makings for greatness but settles for mediocrity, so as not to offend anyone.