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Sand Castle is not the first film to depict the theme of “war is hell”, and it certainly won’t be the last. It’s themes of PTSD, the addictive nature of combat, and the never ending cycle of conflict are hardly new, but director Fernando Coimbra crafts a film that appeals to the premodern Iraq era, where these elemental themes are most applicable. It’s not neccessarily anything new, but the film’s bitter, dark edge is less epic and more intimate, a direction that works soundly.

Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult) is a poor young man who’s enlisted in the Iraq War in order to pay for college, and despite attempting to injure himself in order to get out of conflict, is slowly assimilated into the military culture. It’s a story reminiscent of the 1987 classic Full Metal Jacket, and while it lacks the sharpness of Kubrick’s satire, the film brilliantly showcases the psychology of both Americans and Iraqi. It’s a complex portrayal; despite best intentions, there seems to be very little change.

Hoult is extraordinary here, perfectly showcasing the transition from indifference to commitment, crafting a character that is both relatable and complex. The entire cast operates well together, with a standout being Henry Cavill as a hardened veteran who questions his worth in such a never ending conflict. It’s an intimate, albeit familiar portrayal of war, focused more on character than it is politics. Grade: B+