Francois Duhamel/Paramount Pictures. Kimberly Peirce and Ryan Phillippe on the set of "Stop-Loss." More Photos >
via NYTimes, Film:
Phenom Director Goes to War
By KATRINA ONSTAD
Published: March 23, 2008
KIMBERLY PEIRCE talked at double speed and walked faster, cutting through a hotel lobby during an interview, huge strides belying her tiny stature. And yet, while she appeared to be trailed by those little horizontal stripes that indicate a cartoon character's speediness, Ms. Peirce is slow at something: making movies. It has taken her nine years to follow up her much lauded feature debut, "Boys Don’t Cry."
"Yes, I should have made a movie sooner," she said with a deep laugh. "Yes, I should be a lot richer than I am. Mea culpa."
After almost a decade in the Hollywood wilderness trying to find a project that would equal her first film, Ms. Peirce earned just a single directorial credit, for an episode of the television series "The L Word." Now 40, she has a new film called "Stop-Loss," opening Friday, about American soldiers who have served in Iraq. Since November she’s been promoting the movie on an extended road trip to colleges and theaters, hoping to generate buzz for a subject that has yet to seduce audiences, as producers of "In the Valley of Elah" and "Redacted," among others, can attest.
"Stop-Loss" stars Ryan Phillippe as Sgt. Brandon King, a golden boy from small-town Texas who returns home after two tours of duty in Iraq, ready to begin civilian life. But after a hero’s welcome and a Main Street parade, he receives orders to go back.
He is a victim of a stop-loss, the controversial practice that allows the military to retain soldiers who have already fulfilled their terms of service. Sometimes referred to as a back-door draft, stop-loss is a result of a loophole in the contract soldiers sign upon enlisting that permits "involuntary extensions" in the event of a threat to national security.
Ms. Peirce learned about the little-reported practice from her half brother Brett, who joined the Army at 18, immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks. Speaking of her brother with palpable pride (and straightening her back when saying his name), Ms. Peirce recalled that during his tour in Iraq she would often wake in the night to beeping instant messages from him. When she would ask what he was doing, he'd type back: "You know, the usual: kidnapping, razing houses, stuff like that." Ms. Peirce never knew how literally to take those missives.
By 2005 Ms. Peirce was working on a script about American soldiers, using the title "AWOL," but when her brother told her about friends being sent back for third, fourth and fifth tours of duty, her vision for the project changed.
"We had been struggling because every time we went down the road with a soldier who was like, 'I'm against the war, I don't want to fight,' something died in the script. Whereas if we could stay with a soldier who was severely patriotic and then had a change of heart, but was still conflicted, it was much more interesting," she said. "It's a very different debate than the people who don't want to fight at all."
In "Stop-Loss," Sergeant King, who has seen friends killed and maimed under his command, goes AWOL. He hits the road for Washington, accompanied by his best friend's girlfriend, Michele (played by Abbie Cornish, to whom Mr. Phillippe has been romantically linked in real life). Her fiancé, Steve (Channing Tatum), has returned with a case of post-traumatic stress disorder so severe that he digs a foxhole in his front yard. The film repeatedly circles back to the damaged soldiers' rescuing of one another, in battle and at home.
"When I talked to a wounded soldier who lost his limbs and still wants to go back, he told me, 'It's not the war, it's the men,'" said Ms. Peirce. "That blew my mind. There's this huge desire for camaraderie and male bonding."
That quest for intimacy is the only obvious link between "Stop-Loss" and "Boys Don't Cry," a love story based on the real life of Brandon Teena, a Nebraska woman living as a man who was raped and murdered in a grisly betrayal. A short version of Teena’s story was Ms. Peirce’s film school graduate thesis at Columbia in 1995. By the time she completed the feature in 1999, she had been researching Teena for five years. That indie, shot on a shoestring budget of $2 million, gobbled critical awards and turned Hilary Swank from a "Beverly Hills, 90210" bit player into an Academy Award-winner. It also propelled Ms. Peirce out of obscurity and into a realm of unmanageable expectations.
"I had given everything to that movie," Ms. Peirce said. "I was exhausted, and I got offered millions of dollars, many different movies. But it's like starting to run before you're ready to run. You're still the same. You're looking for emotional truth in your directing, but you’re dealing with 20 times more people, 20 times more money. People are looking at every stage of your process. How did I make 'Boys'? Well, I picked up a camera and just went and did it."