Director - Fernando Coimbra
Cast - Nicholas Hoult, Henry Cavill, Logan Marshall-Green
Rating - 2/5
When they asked Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated American soldiers in World War II, how he managed to single-handedly hold off an entire company of German soldiers during a skirmish, he shrugged, “They were killing my friends.”
Murphy’s sister helped him falsify documents to meet the minimum age requirement to enlist. They’d just witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Events like Pearl Harbor, like 9/11, prompted many young men, and women, overcome by a sense of duty, to enlist. But the ‘why’ of war is as foggy as the rest of it. Several war movies have made an attempt to rationalise the attraction of serving one’s country in battle, but few have succeeded.
Some, like Winter’s Bone – which is not a war movie – suggest that poverty, the promise of a steady paycheck, and ironically, security, is something that might attract a person who’s been backed into a corner. Others, like Jack Reacher – which is also not a war movie – offer the terrifying idea that there might be individuals out there who join because war gives them an opportunity to murder legally.
In Sand Castle, which is a war movie in the same way that Jarhead is a war movie, Matt Ocre (played by Nicholas Hoult), who is, ostensibly, our protagonist, joins because it is a family trade. His grandfather joined, as did his father. What else was he supposed to do?
I question Sand Castle’s status as a traditional war movie because like Jarhead, it spends very little time actually participating in war. Like Jarhead, it is about a platoon of characters who are a part of the war (in this case, the Iraq War of 2003), but aren’t actively involved in the taking of cities and the bombing of innocents.
Instead, their only duty is to help repair a small town’s broken water supply. This repetitive act of drawing water from a large lake, and transporting it, daily, across a literal warzone, to the needy people of the town, reminded me of the almost ritual-like everyday bravery of the soldiers in The Hurt Locker. Of course, unlike that great movie, the threats that the soldiers face are of their own making. You see, the reason why that small town has a broken water supply in the first place is because the US troops bombed it.
As you can probably tell, with its small scale, Sand Castle manages to make, whether consciously or not, a rather powerful larger statement on the Iraq War – which is great – but it is the only statement that it is making. Also, it makes it in the same clumsy manner with which one would dress a self-inflicted wound.
It isn’t the first film to suggest that the American invasion of Iraq could quite possibly have been a farce – Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone (no relation) remains the most thrilling, and honest mainstream movie about that war (yet). Sand Castle however, is one of the blandest, which is annoying, because for more than an hour, it was quite a refreshing change of pace from the usual Call of Duty clones.
It is also telling that I haven’t mentioned the fact that its biggest star is Superman himself, Mr Henry Cavill. Perhaps it is because his role is, generously speaking, a glorified cameo. With an impatiently done buzz cut, a beard that could, at some point, have been intended as a disguise, and a non-specific hillbilly accent, Cavill lumbers about, perpetually sweating, and barking orders in that same angry manner which confused so many Man of Steel fans.
There is a good chance that you might forget Sand Castle exits moments after watching it, much like how the world seems to have forgotten the massive scandal that the Iraq War was, now that every day basically begins with a chance of it ending in nuclear war.