“Sand Castle” is different from traditional Iraqi War films because it does not only show the perspective of American soldiers while sidelining Iraqi civilians. While “Sand Castle” certainly deals with the psychological trauma of war, its bigger theme is the relationship between American troops and Iraqi citizens.
The film opens in Kuwait in March 2003, the year the Iraq War officially began. Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult) is preparing to be deployed to Baghdad. He and his regiment spend a few days in the Iraqi capital before learning that they will be redeployed to a nearby town called Baqubah in order to repair a destroyed water purification facility.
The regiment immediately discovers how difficult the task will be. First, not enough troops are present to fix the facility. Second, no Iraqi will volunteer to assist the repair efforts because they believe that since Americans destroyed the facility, Americans should be responsible for fixing it.
Added to this tension is the locals’ fear of being killed by members of the Iraqi resistance for working with the Americans. But the Iraqis are not the only reticent party. The regiment hates having to do work for a community that clearly dislikes them.
Hostility will not get anyone anywhere though. The American squadron has to stay in Baqubah until they finish repairs, and the Iraqis need access to clean water. An intelligent school principal named Kadeer (Navid Negahban) understands this and takes the matter up with Ocre, the most levelheaded of the Americans. Together they convince wary base leader Captain Syverson (Henry Cavill) that they have to trust each other to solve the problem.
Initially the plan goes well. Iraqis and Americans work side by side and seem to appreciate one another, as shown by little gestures like lunchbox exchanges. Of course the plan derails shortly after it begins, and it goes to show that the Americans could never truly win over the Iraqis. The civilians saw the soldiers as occupiers despite a genuine attempt to restore Baqubah’s water supply. This is where “Sand Castle’s” strength lies — it is a very honest portrayal of soldier-civilian interactions. It is bound to connect with viewers who wish for a mature war film experience.
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