I recently sat down to watch Sand Castle, one of Netflix’s newest original features to hit the popular streaming service. Iraq veteran Chris Roessner wrote the film, so I was excited to see a fellow GWOT veterans take on the war in Iraq played out on camera.
The film, directed by Fernando Coimbra (Narcos, A Wolf At The Door), follows young Civil Affairs soldier Matt Ocre as he takes part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and his unit’s effort to restore water to the town of Baqubah just outside of Baghdad. The story is loosely based on Roessner’s own experiences during the invasion of Iraq, although much was dramatized or changed, according to a recent interview Roessner did with the Army Times. The movie isn’t a large-scale, tent pole war epic; rather it’s the sort of story that reflects the reality of war for the majority of service members: boredom, camaraderie, terror, humor, and frustration.
The Good. This film moved the story along smartly, not taking any of your time to be overly philosophical or focus on aspects that weren’t relevant. The action sequences were good, and although you might be able to nit-pick certain aspects of the firefights, they were better than most of the war movies you’ll watch. They nailed the banter between soldiers that is inherent in any unit at war, and the actors portrayed soldiers as many actually are: young, immature, and fiercely loyal. Henry Cavill, who portrayed a Special Forces soldier, did a fantastic job of being the type-A male without devolving into Rambo-esque chest thumping that is not actually accurate for SOF soldiers but is still a common trope seen in many war movies.
The Bad. The movie falls short when it comes to uniforms and military tradition. It’s not so bad that it’s distracting, and their uniforms and weapons are correct for the period, but there were mistakes like rank not sewn onto soldiers’ patrol caps for example. A lot of soldiers had inappropriate rank for the positions they held, such as the protagonist holding the rank of E-2/Private despite being in the Army for two years already. Possible, but not likely in the context of the film. The writers avoided politics for the most part, but there were still little jabs here and there that seemed a bit out of place, and obviously had an agenda.
The Great. Sand Castle is that movie that you can show your family when they ask, “What was it like?” It may not reflect your experience in Iraq exactly, but any combat veteran will identify with a lot of the concepts and feelings presented in the movie. None of the soldiers are portrayed as faultless heroes, but rather normal people who found themselves in the middle of a war. They laugh, they cry, and they bust their ass for missions that don’t always make sense to them. For many soldiers, war isn’t all about killing bad guys and raising the American flag after you take the hill. Sometimes, it’s about trying to fix a water pump station while dealing with local citizens who you can’t seem to please. This movie shows the truth of going to war, and that’s what makes it one of the most accurate movies to portray combat in Iraq to date.