Sand Castle Review
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When the US went to war in the Middle East, it changed the face of war—which, in turn, changed the face of war dramas. And the Netflix original drama Sand Castle offers another look at the complexities of the conflicts in Iraq—as seen through the eyes of a soldier who would rather be anywhere else.

Sand Castle ventures into the desert with Private Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult), a reluctant soldier who joined the reserves for the free college money just months before 9/11. Now, in 2003, he’s stationed in Baghdad, trekking through the bombed-out city streets day after day. When his platoon is sent to a small village to help restore their water supply, Ocre expresses his concern that no one in the village will be happy to see American soldiers. And as he struggles to do his job and help the people, the mission goes from bad to worse.

Written by war veteran Chris Roessner, Sand Castle gives viewers an insider’s take on the war in the Middle East—though it’s probably nothing you haven’t seen before. The setting is dusty and drab and brown, filled with muscle-bound tough guys who seem way too excited about going into a war in which the enemy could strike from anywhere and at any time.

Hoult’s Private Ocre, on the other hand, isn’t much more colorful than his surroundings. Though he’s surrounded by eager soldiers, he’s quiet and moody and not especially interesting. And it isn’t until the film’s final act that he finally starts to show some depth.

Meanwhile, as is often true of wartime, the story is mostly made up of long patches during which not much happens, with the occasional bursts of action in between. The beginning of the film is more like a series of snippets of stories—from Ocre’s attempt to get out of fighting to an ordered air strike in the middle of the city. And though they provide a glimpse into the main character’s experience, they don’t really do much for the film—other than delaying the start of the real story. In the end, the action and drama do build—and the film does make some thought-provoking points—but the deliberate pacing and rather bland main character make it an often arduous journey through the desert.

Sand Castle does allow viewers to join in a believable mission in wartime Iraq—but it might be just a bit too real. And, in the end, its frequent lulls in action make for a less than thrilling war drama.

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