The Iraq war is a disaster in so many ways that you're is sick of trying to count them; one that's not so well known is the military's option called "Stop-Loss," in which soldiers who've served their time in the war zone and are due for discharge may simply be called back to serve another 12 months. There's no recourse, no option to refuse to go back; it's Iraq or prison and a bad-conduct discharge.
Now Kimberly Peirce (who made "Boys Don't Cry) has written and directed a film simply called "Stop-Loss," and it's about a sergeant named Brandon King, played with amazing confidence by Ryan Phillippe. The film begins with soldiers off duty in Iraq, playing, kidding in the usual macho way to let off steam and the kind of fear that comes to all soldiers. Then we see him with his squad in Tikrit, guarding an intersection and then being led by insurgents into an ambush in an alley. Peirce has shot some incredibly powerful footage (by the great Chris Menges) of just how the ambush plays out, with King and his men fighting for their lives; two men die, two are injured, and King shoots an unarmed Iraqi family by mistake.
And then his squad is rotated home to Brazos, Texas, to a parade and a speech by a senator thanking them for their service. King is to be discharged, but now comes the Stop-Loss; he's to be rotated back to Iraq instead. He and his friends from the squad show every evidence of PTSD, and when he cannot get his commanding officer to release him he decides to go AWOL instead. His best friend, sergeant Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) tries to tell him what will happen, but Steve's girl Michele (Abbie Cornish) says she'll drive him to Washington, where he's under the impression that the senator who spoke so well of him will help get him discharged.
We follow their road trip north, ultimately to New York, where other men who've gone AWOL for the same reasons give him the name of an attorney who can help him get to Canada. Let me leave it there; the film has a kinetic energy that's overpowering, edited brilliantly as an assemblage of half-seen moments, where you never know quite where the enemy is; first with the firefight (filmed in Morocco) and then the unexpected violence that comes on their trip north. We see King visiting a terribly injured member of his squad in the Veterans' hospital in Washington, we see Michele playing pool there with a man who has only one arm and three prosthetic limbs.
I don't know how many people will see "Stop-Loss;" this country seems too tired of war, this one in particular. But if you have the stomach to see just one more film, this one should be it.