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'Stop-Loss' brings Iraq war home

A war hero goes AWOL when the Army recalls him for a tour of duty in Kimberly Peirce's gritty drama.

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Soldier's lament: Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a serviceman who has returned from the war in 'Stop-Loss.'

courtesy of francois duhame/paramount pictures

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With the announcement this week that the 4,000th American soldier has died in Iraq, the timing of "Stop-Loss" could not be more gruesomely appropriate.

In most other respects, this latest Iraq-themed movie suffers from the same overearnest melodramatics as its predecessors. It does, however, highlight an important subject that is new to the movies.

Stop-loss, colloquially referred to as the "Back Door Draft," refers to the controversial policy, authorized by Congress when the draft ended but not utilized by the military until the Gulf War, of retaining soldiers beyond their expected terms and sending them back to war zones for second and even third tours of duty. According to this film, an estimated 81,000 soldiers have thus far been stop-lossed in Iraq.

In "Stop-Loss," Sgt. Brandon King (a stronger-than-usual Ryan Phillippe) is one such soldier. Returning to Brazos, Texas, where he and his fellow hometown combatants receive heroes' welcomes, he discovers he has been stop-lossed. Raging against the system, he goes AWOL – accompanied by Michelle (Abbie Cornish), the girlfriend of his war buddy Steve – in hopes of winning over the senator (Josef Sommer) who awarded him the Purple Heart and Silver Star in Washington, D.C. We already know, even if Brandon does not, that his quest is futile.

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