Stop-Loss – Kimberley Pierce – USA 2008

Stop-Loss – Kimberley Pierce – USA 2008

adrin neatrour writes: Film as text message
Stop-Loss – Kimberley Pierce – USA 2008  – Ryan Phillippe  Channing Tatum  Abbie Cornish
Viewed: The Empire Cinema – Newcastle upon Tyne
 Ticket: £6-80

Film as text message

Kimberley Pierce is a filmmaker who’s lost her way and ended up tied to Hollywood’s apron strings.  Her first film directed in 1999 Boys Don’t Cry, exploiting the fine edge of Hilary Swank acting presence, showed that she had the skill and understanding to fashion an intense world out of the contradictions of contemporary blue collar culture.   Stop-Loss (S-L) creates nothing resembling a world and with MTV as the main credited production company, it evidences as a film the combined depth of the text message and an MTV promo.

‘Stop-Loss’ is the clause in the contract American soldiers sign when they enlist. It’s a clause which gives the US armed forces the right to compel military personnel to extend their service beyond the time for which they originally signed.  During war it’s a means of ensuring good soldiers have to undertake further tours of duty – even against their will.  Pierce believes in particular in relation to the Iraq and Afghan wars, that this one sided clause is a heinous affront and denial of rights. Her film is made is response to her feelings about this issue.  The problem is that film (or for that matter the novel or poetry) is generally not employed to its most powerful or persuasive effect when it is reduced to being a vehicle for an issue; when used as a mere vehicle, a simple conduit for a message.  And Kimberley Pierce has one main message here and that is that the Stop-Loss clause is a violation of fairness and justice.

The message is delivered amidst the emotively acted machinations of a conventional soap drama.  Buddies fall in and fall out with each other against a background concern that connects the vicious experience of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan to the final price paid in damage to the bodies and  minds of the young working class men who do the fighting.   

But there are a large number of films that equate the  waging of war with a destructive effect on individual character personality and psychic equilibrium.  The strongest of these films relate the experience and shock of the soldier to the political and socially structured responses that are endemic in the culture.   S-L fails to achieve this connection not because the constituent elements are absent, the set piece of the public  returning home parade/jamboree is a case in point; but  the style of the filming never allows for these socio cultural elements to be observed.  Altman’s Nashville is powerful because the public aspect of the political element is never overtly interpreted but presented to the viewer as something to observe. IN S-L. the scenario, the camera and editing are always busy interpreting what is happening, and underscoring the visuals with emotionally charged music.  Much of S-L is filmed through close-up shots of the faces of the players which lends the film a reactive soap opera feel: emotions and emoting responses displace understanding as the film’s focus point.  The face replaces the body, surface replaces depth of field.

In depriving the viewer of observational means to see into characters Pierce resorts to ‘devices’ that are intent on making us understand what the characters are experiencing. The use flashbacks is inelegantly crude: Brandon – protagonist – sitting on the dive board stares into the Motel pool and sees his buddy in the depths.  The flashback seems to be used to try and construct meaning in the film where the film script in itself is unable to.  Likewise to express the meaning of damaged young men Pierce and her fellow scenarist Mark Richard   resort to the device of contrived incident mostly in the form of violent outbursts by the characters.  Again it is a crude method of making the point but one that is not necessarily effective in engaging the viewer in understanding. Perhaps because mindless violence is now the currency of most mainstream movies.

Finally I was interested to see that the cinematographer on S-L was Chris Menges. This film and veteran cinematographer of Killing Fields, the Mission, and Dirty Pretty Things would have been handy to have had on board  for the shooting of the ambush fire fight sequence.  It seems like a typical Hollywood match: the veteran cinemat and the tyro director(KP has only directed two films); but was Menges Pierce’s choice or the studios? I am certain that Menges is a model of discrete advice but his presence as key production presence raises the question to what extent the look of the film, which is sort of his department, dictated the delivery of the film.  It raises the general point that overall ( the need for marketing short hand) the director probably gets more than their share of public credit in a product that is very often a team effort.
adrin neatrour
adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk 
Stop-Loss – Kimberley Pierce – USA 2008  – Ryan Phillippe  Channing Tatum  Abbie Cornish
Viewed: The Empire Cinema – Newcastle upon Tyne
 Ticket: £6-80

Film as text message

Kimberley Pierce is a filmmaker who’s lost her way and ended up tied to Hollywood’s apron strings.  Her first film directed in 1999 Boys Don’t Cry, exploiting the fine edge of Hilary Swank acting presence, showed that she had the skill and understanding to fashion an intense world out of the contradictions of contemporary blue collar culture.   Stop-Loss (S-L) creates nothing resembling a world and with MTV as the main credited production company, it evidences as a film the combined depth of the text message and an MTV promo.

‘Stop-Loss’ is the clause in the contract American soldiers sign when they enlist. It’s a clause which gives the US armed forces the right to compel military personnel to extend their service beyond the time for which they originally signed.  During war it’s a means of ensuring good soldiers have to undertake further tours of duty – even against their will.  Pierce believes in particular in relation to the Iraq and Afghan wars, that this one sided clause is a heinous affront and denial of rights. Her film is made is response to her feelings about this issue.  The problem is that film (or for that matter the novel or poetry) is generally not employed to its most powerful or persuasive effect when it is reduced to being a vehicle for an issue; when used as a mere vehicle, a simple conduit for a message.  And Kimberley Pierce has one main message here and that is that the Stop-Loss clause is a violation of fairness and justice.

The message is delivered amidst the emotively acted machinations of a conventional soap drama.  Buddies fall in and fall out with each other against a background concern that connects the vicious experience of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan to the final price paid in damage to the bodies and  minds of the young working class men who do the fighting.   

But there are a large number of films that equate the  waging of war with a destructive effect on individual character personality and psychic equilibrium.  The strongest of these films relate the experience and shock of the soldier to the political and socially structured responses that are endemic in the culture.   S-L fails to achieve this connection not because the constituent elements are absent, the set piece of the public  returning home parade/jamboree is a case in point; but  the style of the filming never allows for these socio cultural elements to be observed.  Altman’s Nashville is powerful because the public aspect of the political element is never overtly interpreted but presented to the viewer as something to observe. IN S-L. the scenario, the camera and editing are always busy interpreting what is happening, and underscoring the visuals with emotionally charged music.  Much of S-L is filmed through close-up shots of the faces of the players which lends the film a reactive soap opera feel: emotions and emoting responses displace understanding as the film’s focus point.  The face replaces the body, surface replaces depth of field.

In depriving the viewer of observational means to see into characters Pierce resorts to ‘devices’ that are intent on making us understand what the characters are experiencing. The use flashbacks is inelegantly crude: Brandon – protagonist – sitting on the dive board stares into the Motel pool and sees his buddy in the depths.  The flashback seems to be used to try and construct meaning in the film where the film script in itself is unable to.  Likewise to express the meaning of damaged young men Pierce and her fellow scenarist Mark Richard   resort to the device of contrived incident mostly in the form of violent outbursts by the characters.  Again it is a crude method of making the point but one that is not necessarily effective in engaging the viewer in understanding. Perhaps because mindless violence is now the currency of most mainstream movies.

Finally I was interested to see that the cinematographer on S-L was Chris Menges. This film and veteran cinematographer of Killing Fields, the Mission, and Dirty Pretty Things would have been handy to have had on board  for the shooting of the ambush fire fight sequence.  It seems like a typical Hollywood match: the veteran cinemat and the tyro director(KP has only directed two films); but was Menges Pierce’s choice or the studios? I am certain that Menges is a model of discrete advice but his presence as key production presence raises the question to what extent the look of the film, which is sort of his department, dictated the delivery of the film.  It raises the general point that overall ( the need for marketing short hand) the director probably gets more than their share of public credit in a product that is very often a team effort.
adrin neatrour
adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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