Home > Reviews > STOP-LOSS – John Powell

STOP-LOSS – John Powell

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

In US military terminology, a stop-loss is the involuntary extension of a soldier’s active duty beyond their initial end of term of service date – in other words, the powers-that-be force them to return to active duty once their tour is up. Director Kimberly Pierce’s film is an examination of this controversial policy from the point of view of Iraq War veteran Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe), who deserts his comrades and refuses to return to the front lines following the end of his deployment in the Gulf. The film, which also stars Channing Tatum, Abbie Cornish, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is an effective anti-war drama, exposing the US government’s apparent disregard for its servicemen.

John Powell’s somber score for the film plays like the flip side of America patriotism: all the musical elements are there for a flag-waving celebration of military victory, but Powell uses them in an ironic, damning way, skewing the traditional values and nationalistic fervor. Cues like “Michelle’s House”, “Losing Steve”, “Call Carlson” and “Preacher’s End” feature lonely trumpet solos that capture the film’s sense of confused morality in a way that Jerry Goldsmith might have done 25 years ago, while retaining a strong sense of musicality and emotional impact.

There are a number of rock and country touches, emphasizing the working class roots of the film’s main characters, and guitars of varying types – electric, acoustic, slide – feature in cues such as “Graveside”, “Tommy Breaks”, “Brandon Meets Josh”, and “Urban Warfare”, often accompanied by a troubling strings-and-synth backing which further emphasizes the sense of uncertainty and anger.

Tracks like “The Base”, “Leaving Town” and “Squad Book” up the tempo somewhat, and sound like authentic rock instrumentals, really highlighting Powell’s versatility. The brief action moments, in cues like “Going AWOL”, are generally straight forward, relying on martial percussion to drive the music on.

At the other end of the scale, Powell’s “Theme for Peace” is a beautiful, subtle, yet emotionally charged piano piece, which somehow manages to encapsulate the confused dichotomy of Brandon King’s mindset perfectly: he loves his country, and serves it with honor, but hates war and hates death, and hates the way his country has failed to respect him and his service. The theme is extrapolated in the more optimistic and conventionally attractive “Both Kinds of Danger”, and combines beautifully with the trumpet refrain in the conclusive “The Greatest Tragedy”, an expansive and dramatic cue which ends the album on a vivid, powerful note. Good stuff indeed.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Michelle’s House (1:04)
  • Graveside (1:37)
  • Going AWOL (3:26)
  • Tommy Breaks (1:14)
  • The Base (1:34)
  • Leaving Town (0:59)
  • Pool Trip (0:52)
  • Troopers (0:59)
  • Losing Steve (1:21)
  • Brandon Meets Josh (1:39)
  • To the Hotel (1:16)
  • Call Carlson (1:50)
  • Urban Warfare (1:03)
  • Theme for Peace (2:33)
  • Preachers End (1:07)
  • Both Kinds of Danger (1:51)
  • Squad Book (1:38)
  • The Greatest Tragedy (7:29)
  • Can’t You See (performed by The Marshall Tucker Band) (6:03)

Running Time: 39 minutes 54 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6885 (2008)

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