R, 113 minutes
In the five years since America invaded Iraq, the causalities have included most of the films that have attempted to treat the conflict from either side of the critical divide. Last year alone, "Lions for Lambs," "Rendition," "Redacted," "Grace Is Gone," and "In the Valley of Elah" all found indifference at the box office. But "Stop-Loss," an MTV Films production about a disillusioned soldier who enlisted after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and is involuntarily called back to Iraq after serving his tour, might be the one to break the trend.
Director Kimberly Peirce, whose last film, 1999's "Boys Don't Cry," offered a haunting perspective on transgender issues and Middle America, decided to make the film after her brother joined a unit attached to the 82nd Airborne.
After honorably serving his tour of duty in Iraq, Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) returns home to rural Texas and tries to shake free of the trauma he has endured in battle. Also home from Iraq are Brandon's friends Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Steve (Channing Tatum). Tommy is unraveling without the outlet the war gave his violent tendencies, and Steve is digging a foxhole in his yard to avoid nightmares. Life will be hard enough from this point forward, but when Brandon is ordered back to Iraq as part of the military's controversial stop-loss policy, he opts instead to flee to Canada. Suddenly, the cynical soldier must re-evaluate not only his patriotism and his loyalty to country and family, but his notions of love and honor.
Though she hasn't made a film in nine years, Ms. Peirce clearly remains committed to digging into the lives, the fears, and the uncertainties of young Americans living on the outskirts of the urban experience and rejecting the order propelled by narrow-minded social convention and the government. "Stop-Loss" is rawer, more immediate, and more human than any of the films about America's involvement in Iraq (with the possible exception of "Elah"), and its young stars — and young target audience — could make it the most important of all the American films to consider the war.
Staff Reporter of the Sun
MY BROTHER IS AN ONLY CHILD
Unrated, 108 minutes
Italian director Daniele Luchetti's new film never really delivers on the promise of its oblique title. "My Brother Is an Only Child," which opens Friday, begins in the 1960s with the engaging story of a young boy who loses his ambition for the priesthood when his older brother presents him with a pinup photo. But as soon as Accio transforms from his 12-year-old self (Vittorio Emanuele Propizio) into his adult form (Elio Germano), the film deflates.
As a gangly adolescent, Accio devotes himself to the clergy with myopic intensity, but when he becomes disenchanted with the church's ambiguities, he goes in search of a new master. He finds the ideological purity he seeks as a teenager in the outmoded Fascist party, and looks to the late dictator Mussolini as his inspiration. In 1970s Italy, this approach is even more flawed than it may at first seem. Accio's enthusiasm for fascism and his antisocial tendencies come off almost as a rebellion against the charismatic, easygoing personality of his older brother Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio), a Communist heartthrob who effortlessly steals the hearts of most women in the film — including their mother.
Both actors do well with their characters, but "My Brother Is an Only Child" hangs frustratingly on the verge of an intriguing story throughout. The two brothers make dynamic antagonists, but Accio fails as a main character. Though he achieves some clarity, helped in part by his frequent enlightenments and the culminating sequences, the vagaries of the film diffuse their impact.
Unrated, 80 minutes
In "Backseat," an aspiring actor and accidental drug mule named Colton (Josh Alexander, who also wrote the screenplay) and an unemployed, henpecked 30-something named Ben (Rob Bogue) embark on a trek from Manhattan to Montréal in the hope of meeting Donald Sutherland.
Ben is oblivious to the fact that Colton has agreed to transport a brick of cocaine in exchange for an audition at Warner Bros. But who can blame Ben for being preoccupied when he's distraught over the latest demand by his domineering girlfriend, Shelle (Aubrey Dollar), that they eschew monogamy?
It comes as no surprise that "Backseat," which opens Friday at Quad Cinemas, spent two years hopscotching the festival circuit without attracting a distributor. It's one of those lame Generation-X comedies inspired by the early works of Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, the whole subgenre has long since fallen out of favor, and for good reasons.