March 28, 2008

Review: Stop-Loss

It's a common conversation in Hollywood that women don't make genre movies, you know, the kind that actually make money where things blow up and people die. Kimberly Peirce, in her second film coming almost a decade after the brilliant Boys Don't Cry, goes where few women directors have gone before -- a war film. While Peirce herself says this is not a technically a war film, in my book, it falls into that category. The opening 20 minutes takes place in Iraq first with a sequence of these young soldiers first making an MTV like video of their lives at war, followed by one of the most difficult to watch battle scenes.

Then, they come home all changed and screwed up. Ryan Phillippe, who has a tendency to be only as good as his material and director, is great here as Sgt. Brandon King a good ol Texas boy who signed up for duty after 9/11. He's home and ready to get out and move on with his life. As he arrives to sign his discharge papers he is told that he has been "stop-lossed" and must prepare to ship back to Iraq. Brandon, always the perfect soldier, loses it, and goes AWOL trying to figure out a way not to have to go back.

What's great about this film is that it's not preachy. Hopefully, because it's produced by Paramount and is targeted at the youth market, the kids who have missed the other war films will finally get into the theatres and see for themselves the fruitless brutality of war.

Much of the pre-release press has focused on why it took Peirce so long to make her second film. If she were the only woman who took many years to make her second film it would be news, but it's not uncommon. (Tamara Jenkins took almost a decade too to make The Savages and she got nominated for a writing Oscar this year.) For Peirce the success of her first film raised the stakes on her second. Here's what she told the NY Times:

“I had given everything to that movie,” Ms. Peirce said. “I was exhausted, and I got offered millions of dollars, many different movies. But it’s like starting to run before you’re ready to run. You’re still the same.

“ ‘Boys’ set the bar very high artistically for me. I wanted to be that much in love with my next character. I wanted to feel it was taking over my whole life. I was lonely when I wasn’t able to work on a movie at that level again.”
By all accounts the actors adored working with Peirce, and Phillippe addressed the woman director issue head on in some comments to the Washington Post.
He found it strange, however, when he realized she was the first female director he'd ever worked with.

"That is shocking," Phillippe says, "because I've made about 30 films, and it's a strange commentary on this business. We need more female writers and more voices, and that's one thing I've been encouraging Kim about -- don't wait another nine years to make a film. People need to have that kind of inspiration she can provide."

On the other hand, he says, gender had very little relevance in regards to making the film. "She's tougher than a lot of the men I've worked with," he says. "Tougher than Eastwood or Altman."
So Kimberly Peirce has done several important things with this movie. She's made a great film about war that young people can relate to, and she's proven that women can direct tough material just like the guys. We always knew that was true. Why doesn't Hollywood?

(photo: WireImage)