Sand Castle, directed by Fernando Coimbra, is a pretty basic war film. It has a simple, small story and apart from its main protagonist, it doesn’t boast characters of much note. But, it is a film that does do a good job of telling that simple, small story, and it is able to hold your attention throughout. But is it enough? Is Sand Castle a film worth your time? Well let’s get onto the full review and find out.
Set during the Iraq war, we follow a squad of soldiers who are tasked with supplying water to a small village, after its main source of water was blown up. This is a squad of soldiers in which some are keen to get out there and get wrapped up in some crazy situations, while others; primarily, Private Matt Ocre – played by Nicholas Hoult – doesn’t think he can cut it out there in the unpredictable streets of Baghdad. All of them will be tested, and not all of them will make it home.
I think the aspect of this film that grabbed me the most, was the main protagonist, Private Matt Ocre. He wasn’t your typical character (that you usually get in a war film). He’s – to be upfront about it – a coward. One of the first things we see him do is deliberately cause an injury to his hand, in the hopes of getting out of having to go into combat.
I found that interesting. I was intrigued to see how this would play-out for him – mainly because it doesn’t work and he ends up going into combat. This then throws up a lot of questions, and also the possibility for some dangerous outcomes. Will Ocre’s cowardice get his fellow soldiers injured or even killed? Will he compromise the safety of a mission? Will he do the right thing when the time comes? Etc. etc. Having someone like Ocre at the front of the film – especially in the circumstances that he is in – really did make for an interesting watch.
And, I feel the film succeeded with the character it had at its disposal. Ocre goes on a journey through the film; he evolves and he is very clearly affected by the things he sees and does. This is helped by a subtle but decent performance from Nicholas Hoult, who adequately shows the changes in, Ocre as things progress. For me, Private Matt Ocre was the most compelling aspect of Sand Castle. And even though I felt the film could have gone much further with it (given even more time to the character) I’m still happy with what I got, and I was satisfied with the conclusion to his personal story.
Beyond the main character though, the film doesn’t really offer any other characters that are as well-developed as, Ocre. Everyone else is pretty one note and a lot of their dialogue is so cliché and crass, that it’s pretty difficult to have any sort of likeable connection to them. Sgt. Harper – played by Logan Marshall-Green – is perhaps the only one that stands out and offers something that goes beyond the mundane stereotype. Don’t get me wrong, the performances by all the actors are good, it’s just that they’re not given much to work with.
Those characters are put into a decent little story though. It is one that is simple in scale and engaging in execution. Unlike other films which have been set during the Iraq war – Sand Castle is one that doesn’t set its sights to high. It instead just wants to tell a smaller, contained story within a much larger conflict. I liked how small, yet crucial the mission was, and I liked that it felt like something that still played a part in the overall war. I can imagine that there were hundreds of little stories like this one, and even though Sand Castle is fictional, it still seems like something that could have certainly happened.
But what I liked most about the films story was its handling of the Iraqi people. Sand Castle does not demonise or look down upon the people of Iraq. It shows that they also had their part to play in getting their country back. Characters like, Arif – played by Nabil Elouahabi – is a perfect example. A man who helps apply his knowledge and expertise to helping the American soldiers fix the water supply. He is a modest but kind man, who only wants to see his country get back on its feet. I appreciated the inclusiveness of the film, and that it showed other sides to a country that it usually portrayed as backwards and unruly.
My last point is (to be honest) a nit-picky one. The music choices in the film are distractingly awful. They never fit the tone of the scene, or they just feel cringey in their attempt to illicit a certain mood. But the worst thing it does is ruin the more emotionally charged moments; ripping away the punch of the scene and removing me from the frame of mind that the scene itself is trying to communicate. Now it didn’t ruin the film, but it was always there – nagging at me; taking me out of the moment.
So with Sand Castle you have a pretty basic film. It doesn’t really do anything outstanding; it never really left a mark on me. I did enjoy my time with it and with it being a Netflix exclusive film, it was easy to sit down and watch. Had this been released in the cinema and I’d gone to see it, I think it would have been a different story.
And so I am going to recommend Sand Castle. If you have Netflix, then this is a decent little film to sit down and watch. It won’t wow you, but I do think it will engage you. So if you find the time, give it a watch.
What did you think of ‘Sand Castle’ or my review? Let me know in the comments down below. Feel free to follow my blog or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. Last but not least, thank you for taking the time to read my review.