The Washington Post
"Stop-Loss" slipped in and out of theaters last spring with little fanfare, except for all those media reports that cited its poor box office performance as evidence that Iraq war movies don't sell. With its arrival Tuesday on DVD ($35), the Ryan Phillippe film seeks to find a wider audience. Hopefully it will, because the extras that come with the release transform this fine-but-not-exceptional drama into something worth saluting.
The plot is fairly straightforward. Brandon King (Phillippe), a decorated Army sergeant, comes home from the war to a hero's welcome, but soon discovers he must return to Iraq. Frustrated and naively convinced that a senator can get him out of the situation, he goes AWOL, hops in a car with his best friend's girl (Abbie Cornish) and heads to Washington to seek high-ranking help. That's the basic narrative, but of course the real story is the subtext: the impact that multiple stints in Iraq are having on thousands of American soldiers.
The movie motors along so quickly that some of that subtext gets lost. That's where the DVD's extras " which include a commentary track from director/writer Kimberly Peirce and co-writer Mark Richard, 11 deleted scenes with optional commentary from Peirce and two behind-the-scenes featurettes " play a crucial role. The commentaries and "The Making of 'Stop-Loss' " give Peirce, who directed 1999's "Boys Don't Cry," the opportunity to explain how her brother's own service in the war inspired her to make the film. The extras also provide a sense of how much time Peirce and Richard devoted to their research, which involved interviews with more than 100 members of the military and their relatives.
Understanding that back story, as well as the filmmakers' strong work ethic, makes "Stop-Loss" an even more admirable project. But it also reminds us that the movie, while well-made, could have been more powerful if it had painted on a broader canvas.
During the deleted-scenes commentary, Peirce notes that "the scenes that stay in have to be the ones that advance the story," but she also expresses regret about having to omit several moments. And in the feature-length audio, Richard contends that some of the subtle but important details in Brandon's story got lost in the editing process.
Neither of them addresses what impact, if any, feedback from the studio may have had on the final cut. Given Paramount's efforts to market the movie to the MTV crowd " not to mention that aforementioned concern about the lucrativeness of war pictures " one wonders if "Stop-Loss" would have turned out differently if it had been made outside the studio system. Without an answer to the question, all we can do is appreciate "Stop-Loss" for what it is: An often compelling film that gains potency on DVD.
Best Boot Camp Bonus: It's almost a foregone conclusion these days: If you star in a war movie, you must undergo pseudo-military training. That's why we see Phillippe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Channing Tatum and other co-stars get put through their paces in the "A Day in Boot Camp" featurette. To their credit, all of them maintain a sense of humility about the experience. And Gordon-Levitt even seems surprised by what he learns about himself: "When I pretend-killed a guy, I'm not going to lie to you, that felt fantastic," he says.
Also Available This Week
Tuesday: You've seen Charlize Theron in "Hancock." Now see her in a small indie that she also produced, "Sleepwalking."
"Penelope" (PG, 90 minutes): Christina Ricci has a pig's face. No, I'm not being mean, that's what actually happens to her in this updated fairy tale. The afflicted heiress could shake off the curse, but only if she were accepted and loved by "one of her own." Anyone willing to tolerate the premise of the story will be paid off by several winning performances (including Catherine O'Hara and James McAvoy) and a moral that makes most of the absurdity worthwhile. Contains mature themes, innuendo and strong language.
"The Bank Job" (R, 110 minutes): In the early 1970s, Terry (Jason Statham), owner of an unsuccessful car dealership in London, gets a tip from an old friend (Saffron Burrows) about a bank vault whose alarm system is temporarily disabled. He recruits a team to steal the valuables, but becomes embroiled in a tragicomedy of errors that includes black militants, MI5 operatives, sexually licentious aristocrats and a sleazy crime lord (David Suchet) hell-bent on saving his skin. This particular robbery really happened and this episode illuminated an almost moral clash between the haves and the have-nots of Britain. Contains nudity, sex, profanity and violence.
"College Road Trip" (G, 86 minutes): This movie ran out of ideas just after they came up with the title. Martin Lawrence's James is the town police chief and painfully attuned to the evils of the world. He wants his daughter (Raven-Symone) unscathed by any of it. She wants to par- tay" although she still has great grades and a great attitude. Dad wants her to go to Northwestern; she wants to go to Georgetown. Eventually, he relents and agrees to drive her to Washington. Contains nothing objectionable.
"Shutter" (PG-13, 85 minutes): There's scarcely a plot twist in this remake of a Thai horror film that one couldn't predict before it happens. Contains terror, disturbing images, sexual content and strong language.
"Step Up 2 the Streets" (PG-13, 97 minutes): This follow-up to 2006's "Step Up" has a message that slips through, at odds with the movie's blatant insincerity: Youthful physicality is pure and impervious, even when it's framed, choreographed, directed and generally falsified by corporate grown-ups. Contains stylized street beatings and very little resembling authentic human behavior.
"The Year My Parents Went on Vacation" (PG, 104 minutes): In 1970, Mauro (Michel Joelsas) is dispatched to his grandfather's home in the Sao Paulo Jewish quarter while his parents, Communists facing death under Brazil's junta, go on "vacation." That Grandpa drops dead before Mauro's arrival is just one of the many contrivances plaguing this ostensibly heartwarming coming-of-age story. The whole thing culminates in the World Cup final featuring the Pele-led Brazilian team, which becomes the rallying point for Brazilians of every stripe. Contains adult content and themes, smoking and mild language.
Also on DVD July 15: "Birds of Prey: The Complete Series"; "Eureka: Season Two"; and "Saving Grace: Season 1."