Sand Castle doesn’t do anything new or thought-provoking with the war genre. It just reminds you of the trauma both sides go through.
Characters & Storyline
Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult) didn’t really want to join the armed forces. Especially the war in Iraq. However, he signed up months before 9/11 and that is where they sent him. So, for a while, he was just looking for ways to get out. He broke his hand and thought that would do it, but he was wrong. Though in the time period of around 2+ years, he finds himself becoming part of a family. One which, with Matt being a bit more smart about his actions than Chutsky (Glen Powell), and perhaps more level-headed than Enzo (Neil Brown Jr.) and Burton (Beau Knapp), his squad Sargent Harper (Logan Marshall-Green) finds value in the kid. But, like any war movie, everyone’s time in the armed forces come to an end. The question is though, who survives to tell the others’ story?
You Can Get a Good Grasp on who is who
Depending upon the squad and their goal, you can become bombarded with names and various ranks to the point you get lost as to who is who. Thankfully though, even with very little in terms of physical diversity, it does become clear who the members of Ocre’s squad are sooner than you think it would. Also, as they venture through Iraq and we meet translators, soldiers, and locals, you get the sense that we only meet and hear the names of people who matter to the story. That is, as opposed to things being like in the beginning where you hear dozens of names and either don’t see the faces again or until the end of the film.
A Reminder That Iraq Wasn’t All Desert and Backwards Living
One of the most horrible things war films can do is present the propaganda that we are the civilized ones and the places we occupied were backwards. This film, though not heavily, goes against the grain when it comes to that. For while there is old infrastructure and this sense that not a lot happens there, at times, we are also reminded there is more than what our eyes get to see.
Take for instance Kadeer (Navid Neghaban) and his school, the fact his brother is an engineer who is able to fix what all these well-trained American soldiers could not. Plus, little things like seeing a dress shop and other stuff which reminds you that these countries the western world invades were very much modern before we step foot there. They had/have all the conveniences we had, like running water. Plus they have free universities, something Americans still don’t have. But in the process of forcing our way of life onto them and getting rid of people we deemed our enemies or the enemies of our business interest, we destroy the people’s lives and culture.
You Are Casually Reminded Both Sides are Terrorist
I hope there comes a day when someone from central Eurasia, aka the Middle East, presents their side of the Iraq war. For really, just getting snippets of showing how the military became their version of terrorists isn’t enough. It doesn’t fully convey the idea that “The War on Terror,” similar to “The War on Drugs” likely does more harm than good. For the collateral damage of the people you are trying to arrest or kill, are the same people you are trying to protect. Which you can see as the protection of the troops leads to parents, often men, being harassed in front of their children. Some even arrested or killed in front of them. Which, unfortunately, the movie doesn’t provide much wiggle room for, since nearly every man killed has a gun, but it does present the idea that Americans aren’t just wanted because the terrorist control the area, but also because they really don’t give a damn about the locals.
Hence why, when it came to fixing that pipe, the army wasn’t given man power but money. That way, the Iraqis could be paid to fix a problem the Americans caused.
Women Are More Often Seen But Not Heard
While it wasn’t until 2013 that the direct ground combat exclusion rule ended, I found it strange that women barely had a voice in this film. Yeah, we saw the Iraq natives in their usual place in war movies like this. You know, as wives and mothers, but as for on the US Army side, we see them solely in passing. They have no sort of voice, see no kind of action, and if you see more than a dozen in the whole movie? Well, I’d be surprised.
On The Fence
Doesn’t Dedicate Enough Time To The Soldiers’ Relationships
Outside of Enzo and Burton’s relationship, which stems from the two growing up together, there isn’t a strong focus on relationship building in this movie. Something which I think affects it in a negative way since the heart of any war movie comes from this band of strangers, who come from across the country, joining together for a similar cause. With this movie, you don’t get that.
I mean, yes, you do see Matt become loyal due to the hardships he and his squad mates face, but that’s it. There isn’t this sort of, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk type of build where it makes you honestly worried not just about someone dying, but how it would affect the others. Leaving you with a movie largely stripped of emotion, no matter what is happening on the battlefield.
Overall: Mixed (Home Viewing) [note]I really need to come up with a different thing to put in the ()[/note]
There is nothing really exemplary about Sand Castle. It doesn’t present any new type of angle to the Iraq war, doesn’t have memorable relationships between characters, nor really give a voice to the Iraqis dealing with their country being occupied. It does its job in depicting the lives of soldiers, but that’s it.
Hence the Mixed rating for the film doesn’t seek to be different in any notable way.