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Emotional Intensity Propels 'Stop-Loss'

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A young man home from the Iraq War is the center of a new movie called "Stop Loss." Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan says this film succeeds where many do not.

KENNETH TURAN: The difference between "Stop Loss" and the other Iraq War movies is its propulsive emotional intensity, an intensity that must be credited to director and co-writer Kimberly Peirce.

(Soundbite of film, "Stop Loss")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) (Speaking foreign language).

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) What's that thing - okay, okay, okay cool. It's a go.

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) Yeah, so this is waiting around to get blown up, huh?

TURAN: The film's opening segment is a combat mission in the Iraqi city of Tikrit. Its horrors hang over the rest of the film. They make Sergeant Brandon King, played by Ryan Phillippe, eager for his tour of duty to be over, but when he returns home to Brazos, Texas, that's not what he hears.

(Soundbite of film, "Stop Loss")

Unidentified Man #4 (Actor): (As character) It says here you have orders to report to the First Brigade.

Mr. RYAN PHILLIPPE (Actor): (As Sergeant Brandon King) Not me. I'm getting out today.

Unidentified Man #4: (As character) Brandon Leonard King?

Mr. PHILLIPPE: (As King) Yes.

Unidentified Man #4: (As character) Out to the First Brigade on the 22nd.

Mr. PHILLIPPE: (As King) This is a mistake.

Unidentified Man #4: (As character) It's all there. You leave on the 22nd, shipping back to Iraq. Subsection 12305, title 10, by the authority of the president. You've been stop-lossed.

TURAN: Incensed by what he considers to be a back-door draft, Sergeant King goes over the edge. Kimberly Peirce hasn't directed since 1999's devastating "Boys Don't Cry," starring Hillary Swank. Peirce is clearly a filmmaker with ferocious commitment to her subject. In this case, it's the way the War in Iraq is tearing many of its soldiers apart, both in combat and when they return home.

Ryan Phillippe's formidable performance as this kind of soldier is "Stop Loss's" centerpiece. Phillippe has been finding himself recently, in films like "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Breach," with characters whose coolness doesn't quite hide a tormented interior. In "Stop Loss," Peirce is careful not to take obvious sides. The film respects the patriotism of the men who serve while understanding just what Brandon King means when he talks about that box in your head where you put all the bad stuff you can't deal with. His box, he says, is full, and there's nothing either loyalty or duty can do about it.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.