Sara Vilkomerson’s Guide to This Week’s Movies: Ryan Phillippe’s Tour of Duty

Guess who (yuk-yuk) cleaned up again at the box office this weekend? That giant animated elephant star of Horton Hears a Who! earned another $25 million, staying at the top of the heap for another week. We were sort of surprised that it beat out both the previously unstoppable Tyler Perry—Meet the Browns came in at No. 2—and Judd Apatow-produced/Owen Wilson-starring Drillbit Taylor. But apparently America wants its stories G-rated and animated! If this is true, the following movies might be in a wee bit of trouble, as they are both deeply unsettling in entirely different ways.

 

STOP-LOSS HOPES to buck the trend of Iraq war movies going bust at the box office. (Remember Rendition? The Kingdom? Lions for Lambs? We didn’t think so.) This one has the über-talented Kimberly Peirce as director, producer and co-writer (along with Mark Richard)—it’s her first feature film project since 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry—along with a scarily photogenic cast that includes Ryan Phillippe, Abbie Cornish, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Timothy Olyphant. The term “stop-loss” (coming from the financial world) describes an unfortunate loophole that allows the army to retain soldiers who would otherwise be allowed to retire after their contracted tour of duty. Mr. Phillippe plays (with great poise) Sgt. Brandon King, a patriotic soldier from Texas who believes in the war and serving his country, but is disillusioned with the army after getting stop-loss’d. Here’s the thing about this movie: There are plenty of details to pick apart (What kind of accent are Channing Tatum and Abbie Cornish attempting? What the heck happened to all those scenes from the previews that are mysteriously absent from the final print?), but the power and emotion of the overall picture is undeniable. More than 80,000 soldiers have been affected by stop-loss orders, and that chilling statistic will stay with you far longer than anything else—though we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that we always want more Timothy Olyphant (and we could have done with some more Ciáran Hinds and Witness bad guy Josef Sommer, too).

Stop-Loss opens Friday at Regal E-Walk and Battery Park theaters and Chelsea Clearview Cinema.

 

SHOTGUN STORIES IS written and directed by Jeff Nichols and produced by David Gordon Green, of All the Real Girls, Undertow and, most recently, Snow Angels fame. And it shows: the languorous camera shots, the sparse dialogue, the beautiful cinematography—it’s all reminiscent of Mr. Green’s work. The movie, which takes place in cotton-field-dotted Arkansas, is about two sets of half-brothers. They share a father, who’s a different man for each family—an alcoholic who named his sons Son, Kid and Boy before changing his life, finding God, marrying a new woman and having four more sons (with proper names). After their father’s funeral, a feud breaks out among the two families (Greaser-Soc style!) and, as always, violence tends to beget more violence. Mr. Nichols shot the film in 35mm in what he describes as “anamorphic 2:35 aspect ratio,” after being influenced by a re-released print of Lawrence of Arabia at age 15. None of the lead actors have the physical beauty of our would-be husband, Peter O’Toole, but they look authentic and are every bit as sympathetic and compelling.

Shotgun Stories opens Wednesday at IFC Film Center.

Sara Vilkomerson’s Guide to This Week’s Movies: Ryan Phillippe’s Tour of Duty