My choice whether or not to review something on this journal is one that is often affected by a multitude of factors. Release schedules are one thing, as most people don’t want to hear about something that came out months ago. Another factor is personal interest, be it from the readers or more often myself. Does the film I’m watching intrigue/stimulate me enough to write something about it?
This is a question that I’ve been giving to ask myself a lot more recently, and its one of the many reasons why I have chosen to avoid Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume 2. Having rewatched the first one by way of preparatory research, I was reminded just how much I hate Marvel now because of what they represent. Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume 2 simply wasn’t going to get a good review from me, because I knew before watching that it would take me for a ride and make absolutely zero effort to engage with me. This is the same reason I haven’t reviewed Iron Fist either. That and the fact that I physically couldn’t watch any more of Finn Jones’ pathetic attempts at martial arts without reaching for the valium.
So as it stands its Sand Castle, a Netflix feature set in the Iraq War, that is getting the write-up this week. I haven’t ventured into the modern war setting of films for some time now, not since Good Kill last year, and I found that my dissertation-mode analysis has lost none of the old magic. I sat through the entire thing with a pen and pad like a good little journalist and the end result is a resounding ‘meh’. But let’s back up a moment and look at the story. The film concerns Private Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult), a reluctant, put-upon everyman who signs up to the Army in order to fund his education. After raising hell in Baghdad for a while he and his squad join a small group of Special Forces soldiers in a village in order to help repair the town’s water supply. His moral qualms are supposed to be the driving force of the narrative, and in many places Hoult does a good job, his meek innocence shining in stark contrast to his meathead comrades who do nothing but smoke, swear and shout ‘Murica with every alternate sentence. And apparently we’re supposed to care when one of them gets killed, even though they do next to nothing to characterise these lizards. The only one who gets a bit of depth to him is Sgt Harper, played by Logan Marshall-Green, who seems to be the standard father figure that most war films seem to generate automatically.
Other notable casting choices include Henry Cavill as the Special Forces captain, who sports the ‘I want to look like Chris Kyle’ look of shaved head, horrible beard and baseball hat, and veteran actor Tommy Flanagan, one of the most Scottish men to ever grace the silver screen and therefore a natural choice for a blustering American Sergeant-Major. It seems odd that such an American story should be told by so many British actors, but then again LA Confidential starred mainly Australians so what the hell do I know about casting. The characters are overall a bit of a letdown, which is a pity, because the writing is actually fairly decent. In fact the best moment in the script is right at the start in the opening monologue in which Ocre highlights his turmoil with why he is out there. It’s just a shame that that level of writing is not maintained throughout the film and instead replaced with, well nothing much really. The film sort of toddles from scene to scene and never really builds up a decent pace to be exciting or compelling. But I think my biggest issue with Sand Castle is that it’s about a decade too late. It’s obviously trying to create some kind of ‘war is hell’ insight into the conflict, given the screenwriter’s military experience, but a 2017 release trying to criticise the events of 2003 is just a bit weak.
All in all, Sand Castle isn’t exactly classic war movie territory. Cinematically, the Iraq War has been depicted in some very interesting ways, and this is not one of them. Why? Because we’ve seen it before, and it’s ceased to be relevant. Perhaps more interesting characters and plot might have served, because the dialogue certainly has potential, but it’s too little too late. Stop Loss was better. American Sniper was better. Kajaki was better. Yes, I know that last one was Afghanistan, but the point remains. Sand Castle is nothing that we’ve not seen before, and it’s a disappointing waste of actors and script. Not letting go of the past is certainly a thing when it comes to American war films, but this one seems most illogical, and it seems Netflix agrees, because it’s the only place that something this average could ever see the light of day.