Monday, May 1, 2017

Movie Review: "Sand Castle" (2017)

Director: Fernando Coimbra
Year: 2017
Rating: TV-MA
Running Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes

A young soldier signs up for the military during peace time in order to pay for college. He unexpectedly and reluctantly finds himself stationed in a post-9/11 Iraq on a mission to repair a water pumping station in a dangerous, unpatrolled section of the country. 

"Sand Castle" is a Netflix original film directed by Fernando Coimbra. It is written by Chris Roessner and is based on his true life experiences during his tour of duty in Iraq. Despite being based on his own experiences, Roessner does not appear as a character in the movie. Instead, "Sand Castle" centers around a young infantryman named Matt Ocre, played by Nicholas Hoult, who initially signed up to join the Army during peace time a few months before the events of 9/11. His goal in enlisting was to get money for college, and highly doubts his own ability to serve in combat. While in Iraq, his unit is sent to help repair a water pumping station in an unpatrolled area of the country called Baqubah. This dangerous mission is one that may change his outlook on his place in the service. Joining Hoult in the film are Logan Marshall-Green (aka Tom Hardy's doppelganger), Glen Powell, Beau Knapp, and Neil Brown Jr., who make up some of the members of Ocre's unit. Also in the film in much smaller capacities are Henry Cavill as Special Forces Capt. Syverson, Tommy Flanagan as Sgt. Maj. MacGregor, and Sam Spruell as First Lt. Anthony.

This is a pretty typical small-scale wartime drama. It doesn't have the epic set pieces and battle sequences you may see in something along the lines of "Hacksaw Ridge" or "Fury," but rather, is a far more intimate telling of one man's personal journey in the service with occasional bouts of gunfire. This true life tale is about a reluctant soldier forced to come to terms with his situation in what is essentially a trial by fire. He attempts to reconcile the fact that the U.S. military ruined a water pipeline in a bombing and are now tasking Ocre's unit to help put it back together because the troops need a P.R. win. Because of this, they find themselves in Baqubah, isolated and essentially alone, to help Iraqis get water once more. All the while, on the opposing side are other Iraq natives who want to stop the troops and contractors and will do everything in their power to prevent people from coming to the aid of others, even if those they are killing are their own countrymen and women. There are numerous tense moments when it comes to the combat aspects of "Sand Castle." Firefights often arise unexpectedly because of the continual threat of armed combatants.

The acting is solid from a decent, well-rounded cast of characters. The most significant player is obviously Hoult, who fits his role well in a far more mature, dramatic fashion than we've seen him in the past. Logan Marshall-Green and Glen Powell also put on convincing performances as men on seemingly opposite ends of how to be a soldier. We get the sense that Marshall-Green's Sgt. Harper has been in this position before. He's seen it all already, the dead bodies, the carnage, the destruction, and has been deeply wounded first-timer in the past, so nothing appears to phase him now as a sergeant. Powell, on the other hand, is the gung-ho 'America first' loud mouth showoff who curses like a sailor and calls everyone else out all in the name of freedom. Though the marketing for the movies puts Henry Cavill as a major player, this is misleading as he has a much more minor role where he gets to look tough and buff in tight t-shirts. Hey, at least we know Superman is a Punisher fan.

Unfortunately, where this picture suffers is in its sameness. It does not boast anything new when it comes to war films. It doesn't take a grand political stance or have a strong point of view on the conflict as a whole. "Sand Castle" is really more of a character sketch that happens to take place during the second and very unpopular Iraq war with a protagonist who doesn't want to be there. It doesn't do anything to differentiate itself from the hundreds of other movies about the war/s in the Middle East, which have become about as frequent as movies about World War II at this point. "Sand Castle" is not a groundbreaking movie. It's not going to be remembered in the long run and it certainly won't become a classic, but it isn't a bad way to spend two hours if you like war pictures that do just enough to illicit a minor response from the audience.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 38%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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