Boys become men in Netflix's new Iraq drama Sand Castle
As titles for television programmes go, Sand Castle is a doozy. Written by former machine-gunner Chris Roessner and based on his own experiences in the Iraq War, Netflix’s feature-length drama is the story of a young American, Matt Ocre (played by British actor Nicholas Hoult, convincingly blue-eyed and square-jawed), who enlists in the US Army with a vague notion of funding his college degree, and finds himself deployed to the Sunni Triangle.
There, among the ruins and rubble, Ocre must put away childish things and become a man. (Speaking of apposite names, and perhaps it’s a coincidence, but “matt ochre” is a colour of enamel paint used to decorate — among other things — miniature soldiers and vehicles.)
In this respect, perhaps Sand Castle, directed by Fernando Coimbra (Narcos), is less than groundbreaking. Or else unspeakably meta — a meditation on the fact that, in matters of warfare, we’re destined to repeat our narratives. Because haven’t we seen this before? The young buck, full of fear and compassion, who falls in with a group of soldier-buddies — the rootin’-tootin’ meat-head, the titty-obsessed chatterbox, the sage-like platoon leader — who teach him the true meaning of bravery and comradeship, and also of despair as they are predictably picked off in a hail of sniper fire? Who learns that, shock horror, not everyone in the world feels about ’Merica the way Americans do?
But there is, of course, another metaphorical sense to be plundered from sand castles: that they are temporary achievements, destined to be washed away as though they had never been. And it is here that Sand Castle finds its emotional weight. Ocre and his team are charged with fixing a pumping station — which, we learn in passing, was blown up by the Americans in the first place — in order to supply fresh water to the town of Baqubah. The task is both unglamorous and difficult: searing heat, a dearth of parts and labour; locals who are terrified and/or openly hostile.
Do they succeed? What do you think.
Sand Castle is out now on Netflix