Movie Review: Stop-Loss

March 31, 2008

Unrealistic… Inaccurate… Inconsitent…

Those are the words that come to mind after seeing this movie on Sunday. The movie starts out portraying a military unit, dressed in DCU uniforms (Desert Camoflauge Uniform), conducting checkpoints in the middle of Tikrit, Iraq. That leads you to believe that the timeframe the movie is based in, is during the initial years of the conflict in Iraq. From the beginning, the movie is unrealistic, as it portrays the wrong way to set-up a checkpoint. As far as portraying what our Troops might encounter in this situation, that’s probably the most realistic part of the movie. Suddenly, they’re confronted by a white taxi-cab who refuses their orders to stop, as it approaches the checkpoint. As the Troops fire warning shots, the car turns and a passenger in the rear seat begins firing upon the Troops at the checkpoint. Realistic enough. They immediately radio in that they’re being fired up and in pursuit of the taxi. As they mount up and begin following the taxi, it’s driver turns into a narrow street or alley and the passengers pile out and run into a house. It turns out, they were led into an ambush. That’s when things begin to get even more unrealistic and it just gets worse from there.

Marty was with me at this movie, he’s been to Iraq 3 times and knows appropriate proceedures for entering and clearing a dwelling or building. Part of his job was to ensure that the Soldiers in his unit worked as a cohesive team an that they were skilled in the appropriate ways to enter and clear a building. Team work was and is stressed at all times.

“The initial stack, before they entered the building was allright. After that, they used poor techniques for entering the clearing the building. That’s not the way we do it.”We never went through a doorway like that. We always had 4 and sometimes 5 at a time in a doorway, cleared each corner of the room and then proceeded from there. They didn’t do it that way. Instead, they made it look as if our Troops are “cowboys” and that they don’t work as a team.”

During the course of the battle, their gunner, who was manning the gun atop the Humvee was blown up by an enemy RPG. The insurgents were well placed on top of the buildings surrounding the alley they were in, managing to kill or severely injure several other Troops. The next scene shows memorial ceremonies where the remaining Troops grieve their losses and honor each of the men they lost during the battle.

You then cut to a scene aboard a bus, headed to Brazos, Texas, the hometown of the two main characters in the movie, where they would be honored in a welcome home parade. At the start of this scene, a date in 2007 flashes across the screen. In 2007, our Troops were wearing ACU (Army Combat Uniform) which is now the only authorized uniform in the Army. One, the platoon leader, SSG Brandon King and his childhood friend SGT Steve Shriver. These two, the main characters in the movie, grew up together, enlisted together and were both looking forward to out-processing and getting out of the Army together. You see their commander speaking with the men on the bus, giving them instructions on how he expects them to conduct themselves. The typical pre-block leave briefings, stay out of trouble, watch your drinking, don’t beat your spouse, your kids and don’t kick your dog. Those in the military, know the routine well.

I found this to be, where the movie really began becoming unrealistic. The portrayal of the entire military unit going to the hometown of only two of it’s members, quite frankly doesn’t happen. While active duty Soldiers return to their home base and do often attend welcome home parades, it’s most generally not going to happen someplace where there’s not even a military base and it’s highly unlikely that the entire unit will go, even if such a parade was held. (After the Troops go on block leave, shortly after returning, they tend to go back to their own hometowns, spend time with their family and friends and possibly attend such parades in their hometowns). To give you some perspective, Brazos, Texas is 130 miles North of Fort Hood, 161 miles South of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 239 miles North and East of Fort Sam Houston, Tx and 559 miles North and East of Fort Bliss, Tx.

None the less, the entire platoon went back to Brazos, Texas and attend the parade. As they rode down the city street to the cheers of the citizen of Brazos, they were smiling and enjoying the welcome home. After the conclusion of the parade, Brandon meets a Senator, who tells him that if he needs anything at all, he’s welcome to call him at his office in Washington D.C., and if he ever makes it to Washington, to stop by his office, and he’ll show him around the capitol. Things change drastically after that. The next scenes takes you into the local bar, where the Soldiers are drinking (a considerable amount) and enjoying themselves and the company of their family and friends, who all somehow ended up in Brazos for the welcome home celebration as well. Suddenly, another patron of the bar walks up to a lady with the group and asks her to dance and she told him that she didn’t dance. The man asks her again and her husband, one of the Soldiers told him that his wife told him that she didn’t want to dance. The man apologizes and backs away. As he walks off, the Soldiers suddenly runs towards him and jumps him and begins fighting with him. His fellow Soldiers jump in, break up the fight and shortly afterwards, they leave the bar, all of them extremely intoxicated. This is where they begin showing almost all the Soldiers in the unit, start having flashbacks to the ambush and their reactions. I hate to tell the screen writers and directors, but even after an extremely horrendous battle, not every Soldier in the unit is going to walk away with PTSD and especially not the extreme symptoms that they portrayed. It just doesn’t happen that way and most generally, extreme PTSD symptoms occur over a much longer period of time than portrayed in the movie. (Mental Health experts say extreme PTSD symptoms will generally begin surfacing between 3-6 months after the traumatic event occurs, not less than a month afterwards). While the PTSD symptoms were fairly accurate portrayals of extreme cases of PTSD, the inaccuracy comes in the timing of the symptoms, as well as the fact that virtually all of the Soldiers were portrayed as suffering from these symptoms. That would be extremely rare for that many in the same unit to suffer PTSD to that extreme.

Everyone leaves the bar and goes their seperate ways. Suddenly King receives a phone call from Steve’s fiancee, asking for help. When he arrives at their house, his friend is in the middle of the front yard in his underwear, digging a trench and armed with a loaded pistol. He goes inside with his friends’ fiancee and leaves him in the yard, with his shovel and his pistol. (I don’t see that happening) There he finds out that his friend has continued drinking and has hit his fiancee. As they walk back outside, his friend has finished digging his trench, layed down in it with the pistol in his hand. Not once did he remove the pistol from his friend’s hand or attempt to assist him in any way. Instead, he makes the excuse to the fiancee that he’s just a “really drunk robo-soldier.”

Scenes like this continue, portraying each of the Soldiers suffering from severe symptoms of PTSD. Keep in mind, this is still only a few days after they returned home from Iraq and only about a month after the ambush in Iraq that opened up the movie.

Now we cut to Brandon going through the process of out-processing in order to get out of the Army and begin life as a civilian. You see Brandon and Steve walking across the base, dressed in BDU’s (Battle Dress Uniform), yet around them, you see some Soldiers wearing the ACU’s and some wearing the DCUs. As I stated earlier, not only is that unrealtic but it’s inaccurate. Soldiers are no longer authorized to wear DCUs or BDUs and would face corrective action for doing so, on any military installation. At one of the last places he goes during the out-processing proceedure, he’s told that he’s not getting out, but instead is to report to a unit and return to Iraq. Marty and I both immediately said “Bull Shit!” Stop-loss doesn’t happen that way. Soldier’s aren’t stop-lossed on an indiviual basis, but instead as an entire unit. Brandon storms into the office of the commander, a Colonel to confront him about the stop-loss and to plead his case, saying “Just last month, we were being ambushed in Iraq and I’m not going back.” That’s really where bells and whistles start screaming. That’s just not realistic. A Soldier isn’t going to be stop-lossed and immediately sent back to Iraq, less than a month after returning from the battlefield. While it’s true, that sometimes, if a Soldier transfers to another unit, that is gearing up for deployment, they may be redeployed before the normal year downtime, it’s not the norm. As those of us who’ve have knowledge of the military know, the standard is to allow returning Soldiers at least a year dwell time at home, prior to redeployment.

The commander then turns to a Lt who is standing in the room and asked him if he heard Brandon refuse a direct order. The Lt. says that he did. The commander then orders the Lt and another Soldier to accompany Brandon to the disciplinary barracks for confinement, as he considers him a “fligh risk.” (Currently, most Army installations don’t operate their own disciplinary barracks to confine Soldiers. Instead if a Soldier has to be confined, they are confined in the jails operated by local law enforcement agencies). No MP’s were called, which in itself is unusual. As the Lt. and the other Soldier escourted him to the disciplinary barracks, Brandon suddenly attacks them and escapes. He’s officially AWOL.

When a Soldier goes AWOL from the Army, there is no manhunt, there is no APB, no civilian law enforcement agencies are called to assist in searching for them. That wasn’t the case in this movie. Brandon takes Steve’s jeep and leaves the post and after a short while calls Steve on his cell phone. Steve tells him that the commander has issued a APB for him and that he’s in serious trouble. Steve then drives to his parents ranch, hiding Steve’s jeep of course. As he’s walking to the house, he sees the local sheriff drive up. Brandon goes in the back door of the house and hears the Sheriff tell his parents that if they see him, the military has issued an APB for him and asks them to have Brandon turn himself in. After the sheriff leaves, Brandon lets his parents know he’s there and they discuss him leaving for Mexico, with his mother offering to take him, herself. He tells his parents that he’s not going to Mexico, but instead to Washington D.C. to see the senator. When his mom offers to take him there, he tells her no, saying that the military and the law enforcement authorities will be watching them. It’s then that Steve’s fiancee offers to take him to Washington D.C.

As they make their way from Texas to Washington D.C., they detour to Nashville, where visit the family of one of the Soldiers from Brandon’s unit that was killed in the ambush. While Brandon is talking to the parents of his fellow Soldier, Steve’s fiancee is talking with the fallen Soldier’s brother, who informs her about an underground network of AWOL Soldiers making their way to Canada. After leaving there, they meet up with a Soldier in this underground network, on the run, with his family, including an ill child, who provides him with a phone number to an attorney in New York City, who assists AWOL Soldiers in obtaining a new identity and helps them to get across the border into Canada. As they go back to their vehicle, they encounter 4 street thugs who had broken into their car. Brandon singlehandedly takes them on, even though one is armed with a pistol and has them on their knees, calling them hadji and threatening to send them to meet Allah. His female companion manages to convince him to hand her the gun and they eventually leave the street thugs in the alley, as they get into the car and get back on the road.

Their next stop is to a military hospital, presumably Walter Reed, where they visit one of Brandon’s Soldiers who was burned, blinded and lost 3 limbs in the ambush. Afterwards, Brandon decides to call the attorney in New York, instead of visiting the Senator, as he initially planned. Unbeknownst to Brandon, his female companion decided to call her fiancee after three days and Brandon is taken by surprise when he shows up at their motel door, dressed in his Class A uniform, with plans to take Brandon back to Texas. He explains to Brandon that the Colonel has agreed to drop any charges against him if he comes back. It’s then that Steve also tells his fiancee that he decided to reenlist and go to sniper school. She gets mad and tells him to leave and she and Brandon decide to once again take off for New York. They call the attorney, who tells Brandon that he’ll help him for $1,000. Not having that kind of money, they buy a motorcycle and sell the girls car, getting the required $1,000 that they needed. After meeting with the attorney and getting his new “identity papers,” Brandon calls home to speak with his parents. It’s then that he finds out, his fellow Soldier (remember the guy who started the bar fight) has shot and killed himself at his parents ranch back in Brazos.

The scene now moves back to Brazos, where the funeral for their fellow Soldier is underway. Steve and the other Soldiers in the unit are the honor guard and Steve presents the flag to the tearful widow. As everyone leaves, Steve remains behind and Brandon suddenly comes out from behind a tree. Steve and Brandon get into a fist fight in the middle of the cemetery.

Next we see Brandon and his parents, along with Steve’s fianacee driving towards Mexico. As they approach the border, they stop the car and Brandon gets out. He tells his parents that if he crosses the border then only a shell of himself will be living in Mexico, a fugitive. Brandon gets back in the car and they drive off.

The next thing you know, Brandon, Steve and the rest of their platoon are back on the bus, preparing to deploy. You see Steve sitting next to the window, seemingly deep in thought, and Brandon walking through the bus, visiting with various Soldiers as he makes his way to the seat beside Steve. Ironically enough, after jumping the two Soldiers escourting him to detention, escaping and going AWOL, Brandon didn’t lose any rank and remained a SSG.

For someone, having no knowledge of the military, they might find this movie convincing and realistic. For those of us, with even the most remedial knowledge of the military, it’s obvious that this is Hollywood’s latest attempt to make the military look bad and to glorify desertion.

This movie is not only degrading to our Troops, but portrays them as drunken and mentally-ill cowboys, who are’t team players, but as deserters as well. That is by far NOT the norm, though they would like you to believe that. The portrayal of PTSD issues was overall unrealistic. The portrayal of the stop-loss process is unrealistic and the glorification of a Soldier deserting and being able to maintain his rank as an NCO was laughable. This is definitely not a movie that I would recommend seeing.


7 Responses to “Movie Review: Stop-Loss”

  1. David M on March 31st, 2008 9:14 am

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  4. Donna F on April 6th, 2008 5:59 pm

    Unfortunately, not all things are nice as you would like to think. National Guard soldiers in some states are facing “re-created” paperwork regarding their release dates and I still see a lot of BDUs worn by soldiers in my hometown. No one wants to think of the military in this manner. But, some units are poorly organized and need serious command make-overs.

  5. Terri on April 6th, 2008 9:09 pm

    Donna, I work on a military installation, where we have thousands of Reserves and Guards rotate through every month. If they rotate in here wearing BDUs, tey’re quickly replaced with the standard ACUs, especially if they’re preparing to deplo, which is generally the case here. Most of the BDUs we see on post, are worn by those in the Air Force who are here, which is a relatively small number.

    I’ve dealt with the stop-loss proceedures firsthand with the last deployment of my significant other, but it wasn’t on an individual basis, as was portrayed in the movie, but instead an entire division. I’m also very in-tune with problems that exist in commands, both in Guard and Reserve units as well as active duty. I deal with commanders frequently in my job.

    I’m not saying that the military is perfect, by any means… Lord knows it’s not, but it’s not nearly as messed up as it was portrayed in this movie. The movie did a very poor job of portraying our Troops. They made them all out to be mentally-il, alcoholic cowboys, who aren’t team players.

    PTSD does exist, I see it in my work, but it’s not realistic to portray that many Soldiers from the same military unit suffering from extreme PTSD symptoms at the same time. It just doesn’t occur that way at all. The entire movie was all about making painting our Soldiers out to be something that they’re not and more to further the anti-war sentiments of Hollywood. Frankly, it was a huge waster of money.

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