"Stop-loss" defined is the U.S. military's involuntary extension of a service member's enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond the normal end term of service (ETS) or the ceasing of a permanent change of station (PCS) move for a member still in military service. Given that, it's a good foreshadowing of "Stop-Loss" as a film.
Sgt. King is a small unit leader in Iraq staffing a vehicle checkpoint; they're fired upon, chase the attackers, and are led into an ambush, where a few of his men are killed, Rico is badly injured, and he unexpectedly kills women and children with grenade blasts. Back home they all get a hero's welcome home in Texas via a parade, lots of hugs and kisses and a dance.
King is done with his service and making plans for living again as a private citizen. King's best friend Shriver is also done with his service, getting out with plans to marry his childhood sweetheart Michelle. When King goes to turn in his gear, his commander informs him he's being stop-lossed, and is returning to Iraq. Not really cool with this sudden change of gears, the meeting goes poorly.
Right out of the gate, the film I watched was not the film I expected. The plot summary on IMDB and Yahoo! Movies was a bit off of the mark, and while I was expecting something that wasn't quite tinted with reality (it's produced in part by MTV Films), so that wasn't the concern -- if anything, it seemed to seek reality far more than their previous films did (i.e. "How She Move," "Jackass Number Two," and "Napoleon Dynamite").
A war movie through and through, but as popular opinion for the President's Iraq invasion wane and the war effort drags on, the film manages to balance supporting the men and women who are in the trenches while decrying the futility of keeping the Armed Forces engaged in a seemingly unending battle in a foreign land.
But a message without a messenger is just email, so they put Sgt. King on the screen, portrayed by Ryan Phillippe. Opposite Phillippe is the level-headed Shriver (Channing Tatum) and Shriver's girl Michelle (Abbie Cornish, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," "A Good Year," and "Candy"). The three manage to represent the key roles to the war effort: the conflicted soldier, the determined soldier, and the wife/girlfriend back home personified; King's parents are also a supportive sort, mom instantly supportive of her son and dad as the supportive Vietnam vet.
The film has its message, and if nothing else, it seeks to raise awareness of the practice whereby the military can effectively keep any member in until six months after the war is over. (Forget your service contract or what the recruiter told you, basically -- at the sweep of the President's pen, you're in for good). In end notes, we're told there have been 650,000 soldiers sent to the war zones since the effort began, 81,000 remain as the result of stop-loss orders, and of the 30,000 additional troops President Bush sent in 2007, numbers still don't tell the story of how many of those were involuntary re-enlistments to go or return to Iraq.
It wasn't so much a bad movie as one I wasn't expecting, so if you're putting it on the list, consider that it's not a light-hearted comedy, that director Kimberly Peirce tends to deliver films about events with some darkness to them (she also directed the 1995 and 1999 productions of "Boys Don't Cry"), and that her results tends to be a decent production.
You won't find yourself laughing or feeling huggy with your best guy or girl on the way out, but it's an eye-opener to an aspect of the on-going military conflict and one of the tactics the government uses to maintain its fighting force numbers.