Set in the middle of the Iraq war in 2003, ‘Sand Castle’ opts for a more character-focused view of the Middle East conflict and does a solid, albeit unremarkable, job of capturing the mood and telling the character’s stories. In an over saturated genre full of blockbuster hits, ‘Sand Castle’ never stands out as anything but an average war flick that’s pleasant to watch but one that won’t be remembered as the years tick by.
The story follows Private Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult) and his squad as they’re tasked with fixing a water problem for a remote village whilst battling tensions amongst the locals and ambushes from the enemy. There’s a good level of tension and the ambushes are legitimately well scripted; they catch the audience off guard almost as much as the characters.
The biggest issue for me though is that the film never feels like it gets going until near the end and when it does, its cut short by a plot point that leaves the entire resolution unsolved. It actually soured the experience for me which is the reason this film hasn’t scored higher. The pacing feels a little off at times with some parts feeling like they drag on a little too long whilst the action scenes, by contrast, are over in a blink of an eye. Despite some amazing effects, gorgeous sweeping desert vistas and a good rise in tension, ‘Sand Castle’ never quite delivers in any meaningful way.
The characters are well fleshed out and adequately acted though. If anything, Ocre is one of the least memorable here and whilst its easy to empathise with his reluctance and fear consuming gaze as he witnesses the horrors of war, it did become a little laborious to endure after nearly 2 hours. There are long scenes of him staring off into the distance or in long bursts of shock during tense shootouts and although I understand the reasoning behind this (He’s a normal guy shocked by the horrors of war) it was a bit unnecessary just how many times they relied on this throughout.
Overall though, ‘Sand Castle’ isn’t a bad film and despite the questionable decision to end the film with an unresolved conflict (ironically echoing the actual war itself?) there’s still things to like from this war film. The camera work is solid, the tension is rife throughout and some of the ambush scenes are very well scripted and shot. Unfortunately, with titles like Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down and most recently Hacksaw Ridge among others all igniting the war genre with some truly incredible stories and action, ‘Sand Castle’ is one for the average pile and not one that will be remembered for years to come.