It wasn't her intention to make a political film. And if you ask Kimberly Peirce, she hasn't. In her new film, "Stop-Loss," the award-winning director and writer of "Boys Don't Cry" wanted to focus on the soldiers. Peirce and her leading man, Ryan Phillippe, sat down with Rolling Stone's Peter Travers on "Popcorn" on ABC News Now to discuss the movie.
A Personal Touch
"Stop-Loss" tells the story of small-town Texas buddies Brandon (Phillippe) and Steve (Channing Tatum), who hope to settle back into normal life after finishing tours in Iraq. Brandon's life is turned upside-down when he's informed that he's being forced to return to Iraq by Title 10, Section 12305(a) of the U.S. military code, generally referred to as "Stop-Loss."
"The fact that Brandon is told he has to go back and his future plans are no longer his own ... is devastating," Phillippe said.
Peirce's inspiration for "Stop-Loss" was personal. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., her brother enlisted in the Army. Despite their mother's protest, Peirce knew she couldn't stop him.
"When he told us, we were shocked ... but he had his mind made up," she said.
An additional inspiration for Peirce was that she lived in New York at the time of the attacks.
"I knew I wanted to work on a soldier's story," she said. "I was already in that mindset."
To research the story, which she co-wrote, Peirce traveled the United States, listening to soldiers' accounts from home and abroad, seeing local parades and going to small-town dances. In talking to soldiers, Peirce was struck by the commitment they had to each other.
"They just kept saying, 'These are the most profound relationships of my life. The fact that I am willing to die for this other person makes me feel powerful, makes me feel connected, makes me feel human.'"
"That bond, that brotherhood [soldiers share], I think, in some ways is even stronger than by birth at times," Phillippe added.
To read Peter Travers' Rolling Stone Review of "Stop-Loss," please click here.
The Family Connection
It was important for Peirce to capture this brotherhood and also to focus on the families at home, in the character of Michelle (Abbie Cornish), Steve's fiancee. It's an aspect of the war that few recent films have confronted.
"Not a lot of films deal with the military family, and probably because I am a sister and I dealt with my mother's emotions, which were very intense. She was terrified so much of the time when he was gone — to me, it just seemed really important that we put that element in," Peirce said.
"A lot of the guys and girls over there spend the majority of their free time planning for that — to come home and be with their family and hold their baby or their girlfriend or husband or whatever it is ... I think that helps them survive," Phillippe said.
Beating the Box Office Curse
The box office hasn't been very friendly to Iraq-themed movies recently. Star-studded films like "In the Valley of Elah" with Tommy Lee Jones, took in a mere $6 million at the domestic box office. "Rendition," starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon fell short of the $10 million mark. Even so, Peirce has a different take on her film.
"I don't think that this is an Iraq war movie in that sense ... this whole movie came out of the soldiers' experience," she said.
In this technical world, it is easier for soldiers to create these experiences. The YouTube generation has found its way to Iraq.
"[Soldiers] carry around these little consumer cameras and they literally put them wherever they can," Peirce said.
Using simple editing software, soldiers in the field edit, add music and upload their experiences directly from the field. The songs of Toby Keith and Drowning Pool are the soundtracks with their stirring emotions.
"Not only are they capturing what they're experiencing, but then they're creating their own narratives," Peirce said.
For both Peirce and Phillippe, "Stop-Loss" was a project with meaning.
"I love what I do and I don't see why I wouldn't make something that is either connected to my family, my country — that matters,'' Peirce said. "I mean, it's just so satisfying."