War film "Stop-Loss" downplays Iraq theme in ads

Fri Mar 14, 2008 1:31am EDT
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By Steven Zeitchik

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - With its morally complex story of soldiers who've served in Iraq, "Stop-Loss" offers a more direct and gritty account of a current soldier's experience than any commercial feature to date.

Yet you wouldn't know it from the trailer, which emphasizes a young cast in moments of camaraderie in Texas. Or from the poster, which has the vibe of a "Friday Night Lights" or "Varsity Blues" as much as "Platoon" or "Full Metal Jacket."

Such is the paradox of Kimberly Peirce's "Stop-Loss," which, after being moved from the fall to avoid the box office hacksaw faced by other war pictures, holds its premiere Monday in Los Angeles. It opens nationwide on March 28.

The Paramount Pictures release, Peirce's follow-up to 1999's "Boys Don't Cry," addresses the complexities and pressures of those currently serving in the modern military in ways arguably no studio has.

And yet the recent box office fate of Iraq movies has prompted Paramount to take a notably careful approach that downplays the war. The movie is being sold as an MTV Films picture with an attractive young cast (Ryan Philippe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt) that will lure people to theaters for other reasons.

In essence, they're inverting the model: Where fall movies such as "Rendition" and "The Kingdom" that are only indirectly about Iraq tried to tap into the Iraq zeitgeist, a film far more relevant to the war is in a sense trying to distance itself from it.

"Any movie that deals with the war has to find another way in (to consumers)," said one veteran marketer. "So we're in this weird situation (where) the more a movie like this is about contemporary issues, the less you can talk about them in your marketing."

"Stop-Loss" centers on Brandon (Philippe), a soldier who finishes his tour in Iraq and returns home to Texas. Soon after he comes home, however, he find himself ordered back to the Middle East under the Army's stop-loss provision, which can order soldiers back at any time. He then must weigh whether to go back to Iraq or flee the country.   Continued...