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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME?: Brandon King (Ryan Phillipe) is searching for help in dealing with the debilitating effects of his post traumatic stress syndrome which has developed after his return from serving tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Stop-Loss: Drama Examines Emotional Toll Exacted by Service in Iraq

Kam Williams

After serving tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, Staff Sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe), soon to be honorably discharged, returns from the Middle East as a decorated war hero and a welcoming parade. When he arrives in his hometown of Brazos, Texas, he is awarded a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star by his Senator (Josef Worrell) in the presence of his squad, family, and friends and neighbors.

Unfortunately, all the accolades and attention did not alleviate the emotional toll on his psyche caused by serving in two war zones. After all the hoopla has died down, King discovers that he is having flashbacks of hand-to-hand combat and is seeing the faces of the members of his company who were killed while under his command.

Unfortunately, his parents (Ciaran Hinds and Linda Emond), cannot help him cope with his case of post-traumatic stress disorder. However, he does have several sympathetic shoulders to lean on such as his best friend, Sergeant Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) and other buddies from his squad, who try to help him make the challenging adjustment back to civilian life. Prophetically, their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Boot Miller (Timothy Oliphant), while dismissing his men after the parade and award ceremony, warns them not to drive drunk, physically abuse women, or consort with underage girls, which of course they promptly proceed to do while on furlough.

First, Tommy (Joseph Gordon Levitt) hits a telephone pole while driving drunk. Next, Steve digs a foxhole in his front yard to sleep in after inexplicably beating his girlfriend, Michelle (Abbie Cornish) and others get into similar situations.

Whether the film has a pacifist agenda or is trying to make a case for a return to the draft, Stop-Loss is a compelling movie which compassionately establishes that veterans of the Iraq conflict can have mental wounds which are just as disabling as physical ones. While we are empathizing with the returning soldiers who do not receive treatment for their psychological traumas, director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) ups the ante by having Brandon informed that he’s just been Stop-Lossed, and must head back to the frontlines in Iraq because the military is shorthanded.

He takes this news badly since he’s already served his country and is making plans for the next phase of his life. Consulting his parents and pals proves to be no help since they feel he has no choice but to follow the orders of his superiors.

Instead of reporting back to the base, Brandon impulsively goes AWOL accompanied by his buddy’s girl, Michelle, knowing full well that he’s risking both a friendship and a dishonorable discharge. Searching for an avenue of escape to Canada or Mexico, the two descend into an underground world of army deserters that is inhabited by black market hustlers who make promises they probably do not intend to keep.

Will the combat hero really abandon the U.S. or will he decide to re-up for another tour of duty? Well scripted and convincingly executed, this raw thriller is made all the more riveting because you realize that similar events may be occurring all across America.

Excellent (3.5 stars). Rated R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity. Running time: 113 minutes. Studio: Paramount Pictures.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

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