Review: 'Sand Castle' Starring Nicholas Hoult, Henry Cavill, & Logan Marshall-Green

Is there anything new to be said about the Iraq War? No, really, pretty much every movie on the subject chronicles the war from the eyes of the low-level grunt soldier, who has either been forced into the military by economic hardship or is there despite not understanding what he's fighting for. They either endure incredible hardship and tragedy or endless amounts of boredom. ALL of them will be met with a populace that doesn't seem to appreciate their presence, causing the familiar "Why should we help them?" debate played out so many times before. Sand Castle, the latest Netflix original film, is all of these things and literally nothing else. It's not a bad war movie, just one you've seen a thousand times before.

The most intriguing thing about Sand Castle is the thought of where this movie would be without the streaming service. The answer is "probably nowhere." Despite  cast that includes Nicholas Hoult, Henry Cavill, Logan Marshall-Green, and Glen Powell Jr., it wouldn't have found much of an audience theatrically. We've moved on beyond talking about Iraq, haven't we? And this particular story, about a military unit tasked with fixing a broken water system in a dangerous Baghdad villague, isn't exactly attractive. Hoult plays Pvt. Ocre, who we first meet as he's trying to break his own arm in a Humvee door to get out of a deployment. He enlisted just before the 9/11 attacks out of necessity, never realizing that in a few short years he'd be in the thick of the shit. So we know he wants out, and it's like his fellow soldiers can smell it on him, too. None of them, including the more hard-nosed grunts out there, have much faith in Ocre during a firefight, probably because he always looks just flaky enough to run away at some point.

There's not much of a story here; no hill to capture, no stronghold to occupy, no terrorist to capture. That looseness is one of the few examples of Sand Castle striking out in a slightly different direction, but even then it resembles the 2005 drama, Jarhead. Chris Roessner’s screenplay is as workmanlike as Fernando Coimbra's direction, offering stock character types rather than fully-rounded characters for us to invest in. Coimbra does his best to differ the bland, sandy backlot visuals with a diverse soundtrack that includes era appropriate rock and hip-hop tracks, but there's very little here to give the film a distinctive edge. For what it's worth, the film is never dry or boring, and the firefights are where Coimbra's talent really comes through. Some of the battles are truly edge-of-the-seat exciting so that you wish there were more of them. But darnit, those people need their water.

Hoult is a perfectly fine actor but he seems miscast here. For that matter, so does Cavill. Maybe it's that they're too big for a production that feels really small-time. The scruffy Cavill, looking a lot like Superman during his vision quest period in Man of Steel, does little but scowl and grunt vulgar commands at soldiers and Iraqi warlords. There isn't enough that we learn about Ocre for Hoult to properly sell him as a soldier whose story is worth sitting through. Powell is back playing another loud-mouthed jerk, because that's kinda his thing, but Marshall-Green is actually quite good as Sgt. Harper, who gives Ocre a sympathetic ear to voice any concerns.

Netflix isn't going to score Adam Sandler-sized numbers with Sand Castle, but the cast will undoubtedly intrigue a few curious couch potatoes. What they'll get is a perfectly serviceable war movie that won't come up in future conversations about great war movies.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5