Picks and Pans Review: Stop-Loss

updated 04/07/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/07/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Abbie Cornish, Timothy Olyphant | R |

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Sgt. Brandon King (Phillippe) just wants to get on with his life. After volunteering for the Army and serving a tour of duty with distinction in Iraq, he's ready to pack away his medals and settle down in his dusty hometown of Brazos, Texas. But the Army, under its stop-loss policy, indefinitely extends his service. Told he's being shipped back to Iraq, King says no. "I'm done with killing and I ain't leading any more men into a slaughter," he vows.

Stop-Loss, director-cowriter Kimberly Peirce's first film since 1999's Boys Don't Cry, is an honorable—if sometimes narratively unwieldy—effort to examine the psychological and emotional effects of our country's current wars on the soldiers who serve. At the movie's center is King's anguished struggle to figure out where his duty and heart lie, even as he's AWOL and ducking authorities. Equally adrift are his pals (Tatum and Gordon-Levitt), who served with him and have returned to find themselves boozing too much and estranged from wives and girlfriends.

The performances by all are impressively heartfelt, and the movie gets to you. But you can't help thinking as you're watching that this is only fiction and will be neatly tied up at the end. For the soldiers who really have served and come back, as documentaries like the disturbing The War Tapes show, the trauma lingers.

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