STARRING: Nicholas Hoult, Logan Marshall-Green, Henry Cavill, Tommy Flanagan, Glen Powell, Beau Knapp, Neil Brown Jr. and Sam Spruell
Set during the occupation of Iraq, a squad of U.S. soldiers try to protect a small village.
Sand Castle is the latest offering from Netflix, focusing on young soldier Matt Ocre, who signed up for the army as a way to pay for college. A few months later however 9/11 happens and Matt finds himself in Iraq fighting a war that he didn’t think he’d be apart of. A few months into their time in Iraq, the platoon is reassigned to the small village of Baqubah, on the outskirts of Baghdad, where they assist in repairing a water-pumping station that was destroyed by a US missile. The film has been penned by Iraq War veteran Chris Roessner, based on his own experience as a machine gunner in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle and Fernando Coimbra, who directed A Wolf At The Door and a couple of episodes in the first season of Narcos, helming the film.
In terms of being a Netflix film, I thought that Fernando Coimbra’s directing was good when in how it handled a few battle sequences in the village, showcasing the chaos and uncertainty of where the enemy was and how many there were from the soliders point of view. With the look and feel of the setting, the cinematography from Ben Richardson I thought was good as was the set direction by Nasser Zoubi and Karim Kheir. The arc of Matt Ocre as a young soldier who is reluctant to go serve in the war, so much so that we see him slamming a door in his hand repeatedly in order to give him an out via medical leave but then becomes reluctant to leave, I found to be the most compelling aspect of the film and I thought Nicholas Hoult’s performance in the role to be good, particularly with the facial expressions he brings to convey his emotions in certain moments for the audience to pick up on. With the rest of the cast, the standouts for me was the often underrated Logan Marshall-Green, providing a solid performance as Staff Sergeant Harper, leader of Ocre’s platoon whose more compassionate than your ultra-alpha-sergeant you’ve come to expect in big screen war films, and Glen Powell as Sergeant Dylan Chutsky, with a rather limited character on paper he manages to provide personality to the character that made him standout from the rest of the platoon.
In terms of the story, I found it to be quite underwhelming. Granted it highlight a few interesting points, such as a conversation between Ocre and local Arif about education from University (“Shit, well in America nothing’s free.”) and briefly (very briefly) mentioning how the Americans are responsible for the water-pumping station being destroyed in the first place, thus the platoon being reassigned to help with not supplying water to the locals, but also try to gain the help of the Iraqi people to rebuild the station and showcases the consequences of those that assist in helping the Americans. The problem however is that the film overall just rather bland and lacked that extra line of something to say that we haven’t seen before other than finding itself boxed into saying ‘War is hell’ and ‘War never changes’. If you do seek out this film particularly to watch it for Henry Cavill alone, you’ll be surprised as to just how little screentime he has in the film, it’s virtually nothing more than a glorified cameo. As it is a Netflix film, it feels like it from the budget when it focuses on the action sequences, from the one part in the one set-piece where I couldn’t help but feel there was some green screen involved, to the chaotic final act where we didn’t see the enemy at all.
In terms of focusing on Matt Ocre’s arc from reluctant to serve to being reluctant to leave due to survivor’s guilt/PTSD, that is when Sand Castle is at its most interesting for me. Unfortunately the film however doesn’t tell us anything new and it lacks that punch to make it a good film, though it is an okay war film. For some viewers if they come in expecting a war film in the vein of 13 Hours, they’re consider this to be an incredibly dull viewing experience. The film however does include a solid performance from Nicholas Hoult, with two other fine performances from Logan Marshall-Green and Glen Powell. 5/10