“Sand Castle” is an appropriately named movie about the war in Iraq. It is a Netflix original. The movie was directed by up and coming Fernando Coimbra. It was written by Chris Roessner based on his experiences as a machine gunner in the Sunni Triangle. He was inspired by the movie “Platoon”. The movie was released directly to Netflix customers in 2017.
The movie centers on a young rifleman named Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult). Ocre joined the Army Reserves to pay for college. He enlisted before 9/11 and had no intention to become a patriotic warrior. In fact, the first thing he does in the movie is attempt to injure himself so he can be sent back to the States. He does not succeed and the day his cast comes off, his unit gets orders to participate in the invasion of Iraq. He is the only one in his squad who is not gung-ho about seeing the elephant. In the rubble of Baghdad, they run into a sniper so they call in an air strike to kill one man. A hammer to swat a gnat. The American way of war. They are billeted in a palace with running water and a swimming pool for three months before they get orders to fix a water pumping station in the city of Baqubah. Ocre does not want to volunteer, but his commander needs someone smart on board. When they reach Baqubah, they link up with a special forces unit led by a badass named Capt. Syverson (Henry Cavill). He explains that the job is to distribute water from the station. Each day they will have to escort a water truck to the desperate people. Those people are not desperate enough to be appreciative. And the insurgents are not interested in allowing the Americans to become appreciated. Ambushes ensue leading to a raid on a suspected terrorist lair. Someone gets the logical (except for this being Iraq) idea of having local workers fix the pumping station. Like building a sand castle before the inevitable tide.
“Sand Castle” is very good for a Netflix original. That bodes well for war movie lovers. Coimbra does well with a limited budget. It is a small movie concentrating on one character. Hoult is good as Ocre, who is the only character that is developed. Ocre reminds me a bit of Henry Fleming of “The Red Badge of Courage” – a reluctant warrior. Henry Cavill gives the movie a second recognizable star as Syverson. Syverson is the stereotypical operative. The squad is also stereotypical. All but Ocre are enthusiastic about living out their video games and proving their manhood. Their attitudes are realistically macho and their behavior as soldiers shows that Roessner lived what he wrote about. The men are naïve, but there is a lot of that spread through the movie. The Americans are naïve to think good works will make a difference. The Iraqis who help the Americans are naïve to believe that the Americans will be able to protect them. This theme is embodied in the school master who is so desperate for water for his students that he works with the Americans to repair the station. Do I need to tell you that he is a tragic figure? Besides naivete, the movie also explores the theme of futility. Again, note the title. The movie makes clear parallels to Vietnam. We control the day, the enemy controls the night. Civilians are caught in the middle. Winning hearts and minds is a pipe dream. The movie makes you wonder if the American high command ever saw a Vietnam War movie or read any books on the war before committing us to overthrowing Saddam Hussein. If you have never seen an Iraqi War movie or read a book on it, “Sand Castle” is a good primer. I do not know of any other Iraqi War movie that concentrates on the huge problem with infrastructure that resulted from our conquest of Iraq. The commendable American philosophy of “we broke it, so we’ll fix it” is rendered with the typical result for Iraq. It was not post-WWII Germany or Japan. The movie tosses in some brief combat, but you get the impression that America will never be comfortable with counterinsurgency.
If you are a Netflix subscriber, give “Sand Castle” a look. Even if you are not a war movie lover, you’ll enjoy it and learn a little. For instance, you’ll learn that when you invade a country and bomb the hell out of it, they might not give you much credit for rebuilding what you destroyed.
GRADE = B