Joining the constantly updating list of Netflix Original films being produced at a seemingly regular rate these days, Sand Castle is the latest film to attempt to depict the true horrors of war and how those involved are truly affected by the missions tasked to them. Starring heavyweight forces in Nicholas Hoult and Henry Cavill it certainly poses a promising scenario but with so many films of this ilk having grabbed our attention before, here we have an entity that certainly doesn’t just rely on its star power to create a truly human experience.
Sand Castle, directed by Fernando Coimbra, sees a group of soldiers stationed in Iraq in 2003 given the task of repairing a broken water system in a village named Baqubah. Among the platoon led by Staff Sergeant Harper (Logan Marshall-Green), gunner Matt Ochre (Nicholas Hoult) remains the most reluctant soldier of the pack, having failed in an attempt to be sent on the next plane home, while his other comrades remain brothers in arms ready to fight for their country.
With their mission coming at a time when they expected to be preparing for home, the crew are initially frustrated but soon come to the realisation that danger is only around the corner in this village and they must be at their most prepared to take on the threats that await.
It can often be difficult to capture an audience’s imagination with a war film without the grandeur of a breathtaking sequence of an explosive nature but when done right such films can instead play out with a true human core. To an extent, Sand Castle does just this without quite reaching the heights of being a truly memorable movie. Instead, Coimbra’s movie quietly goes about its business in providing a commentary on the togetherness of the army forces and their strong bond in the most dangerous and life-threatening of situations.
Presenting us to his ragtag platoon, the director serves us a wide range of individuals of which we can easily get behind in the face of danger. Hoult’s Ochre – initially the outcast of the group – is our everyday man whose fears match his desire to leave Iraq, Marshall-Green’s Harper the moderator and steady leader, while the likes of Glenn Powell (at his dominating best) and Neil Brown Jr (the very definition of an army ‘brother’) add the defiance and strong will to the proceedings. It’s a good mix of differing personalities and works well in the scope of the film’s ongoing events and inevitable tragedies. Henry Cavill, thrown into the mix some halfway through the film, while strong in his role as a special forces Captain, is essentially a sideshow in favour for these guys and still serves his purpose well despite being a secondary character.
With such a strong group of characters forged, Sand Castle is at its best when these guys are interacting. Whether prepping for their next journey, taking a break for some food or approaching battle, there is strong work from this team from every corner and this helps make the film so much more human than one would expect. Opting for this approach in favour of thrills works for the most part but essentially there are times that Sand Castle feels slow and, at times, a tad tedious. Admittedly, there’s only so much banter coupled with some beautiful cinematography that you can take in such a film before you desire some full metal action. That does arrive but in very small doses and that could ultimately put many viewers off the whole experience.
Sand Castle isn’t a bad war-based film, with plenty of great character work and some stunning cinematography. Hoult and Marshall-Green are impressive, Cavill under-used and Glenn Powell the standout in a film packed full of human heart and spirit. Where it falters is in keeping the interest levels at their peak, with the incoming thrills coming too little too late and at such a slow pace that many will have lost interest by their arrival.
Sand Castle is available now on Netflix.