The opening of Fernando Coimbra’s “Sand Castle” finds Private Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult) putting a rag in his mouth, before repeatedly slamming a car door against his hand. “I joined the reserves for the college money,” he narrates. “I don’t belong here.” The film’s first moments are a punch to the gut — we see the blood gather on Ocre’s knuckles, and it’s hard not to wince. The moment deliberately characterizes Ocre as a reluctant soldier; in a minute and a half, we know exactly who Ocre is, and we have a reason to care about him. It is unfortunate, then, that the rest of the film doesn’t live up to its introduction, bypassing character development to offer us scenes of the Iraq War that have been better executed in innumerable films before it.
Even though Ocre is set up well, the film doesn’t do much to explore how his character grows. We see him skittish in battle, but his inexperience doesn’t have much bearing on the plot, which is a shame, because an ineffectual soldier as a war film’s main character sets up a unique premise. The film also establishes him as the smart one in a cadre of over-eager warriors, but we don’t see this uniqueness onscreen. Make no mistake, by the end of the film, Ocre has evolved as a character, but that doesn’t constitute character development because we don’t see his evolution, only its uninteresting result.
Ocre certainly isn’t the only character to be shortchanged though. After two hours, we barely know any of the characters in “Sand…
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