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Human toll
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Unlike previous Iraq War movies, "Stop-Loss" has a real chance of appealing to a wide audience due to its close focus on the human fallout of the war instead of the political aspects surrounding it.

More emotional and raw than such noted war-films as "Full Metal Jacket" and "Apocalypse Now," "Stop-Loss" is assured its place in war film canon, largely due to the screen time director Kimberly Peirce ("Boys Don't Cry") gives to the subject of post traumatic stress - a disorder which has afflicted thousands of returning veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ryan Phillippe ("Flags of Our Fathers") stars as Army Staff Sgt. Brandon King, who returns to his home in Texas, expecting to leave the army after serving two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan only to learn that he has been stop-lossed by the military and must return to Iraq for another tour.

While initially written off as a pretty boy when he first broke into the Hollywood scene in the late-1990s, Phillippe has since made a name for himself as a credible young actor with turns in such critically acclaimed films as "Crash" and "Flags of Our Fathers."

He continues that trend in "Stop-Loss" where he demonstrates an acting range previously unseen as his character verges from patriotic pride, to uncontrollable rage, to profound guilt, and finally, inevitably, to acceptance. One thing's for sure though, this guy's got grit.

Also demonstrating a hereto unknown talent is Channing Tatum who first gained attention as the bad boy with the rock-hard abs in "Step Up." Tatum plays Brandon's best friend since childhood, Steve, who shipped out with him to Iraq. Unlike Brandon, Steve is fully committed to the military and can't understand his friend's refusal to go back to Iraq.

Playing Steve's long-suffering fiancé is Australian actress Abbie Cornish ("Elizabeth: The Golden Age") who brings a deep well of compassion to her character, Michelle. Torn between two men she has known and loved since childhood, Michelle's motivations are both complex and simple and Cornish does an excellent job of plucking the chords of her character to bring out the keenest of human emotions.

Completing the well-rounded cast is Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("The Lookout") who plays Tommy, a deeply disturbed Iraq vet who can't seem to function properly outside the war-zone. Gordon-Levitt, a rising star of the Indie circuit, threatens to steal the screen every time he is on camera, so riveting is his performance of the tragic Tommy.

According to the filmmakers, of the 650,000 men and women who have served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, 81,000 have been subject to the stop-loss policy.

The stop-loss policy, which involuntarily extends an enlisted service member's contract, has been criticized by some as a back-door draft. This about sums up the political factoids you'll get from the movie though.

Instead the movie is filled with subtle reminders that hint at the greater political backdrop surrounding the war such as when Brandon's army buddy, Rico Rodriguez, grievously injured in Iraq by a shrapnel blast, says he would consider going back to Iraq because if he died his family would receive green cards from the government.

But rather than hammer the movie viewer over the head with important political commentary, the film gradually draws you into the plight of these young veterans by focusing on their efforts (and failures) to readjust to civilian life after war.

Grade: A-

"Stop-Loss" is rated R for graphic violence and pervasive language and has a running time of 1 hour and 52 minutes.