There are some depressingly sad films that are so beautiful, powerful, and full of meaning that it doesn’t matter how depressing they are. They add something to our lives. They make us better. David Lowery’s A Ghost Story and Tom Ford’s A Single Man are two examples of this. The Yellow Birds, a film about young men in the Iraq War by Alexandre Moors, is a depressingly sad film that added absolutely nothing to my life but disdain and horror.
The Yellow Birds drowns its audience in the horrors of war and the desensitization of young men in the Iraq War and leaves us with no sense of hope or meaning. Alden Ehrenreich (who is currently making waves as the titular character of Solo: A Star Wars Story) blandly plays Private Bartle and Ty Sheridan (who just broke the internet as Wade Watts in Spielberg’s Ready Player One) plays Private Murphy. Bartle and Murph’s story, while sad and probably not too far off from reality, is wholly unoriginal. Do we need another story like this right now? It doesn’t feel like it.
Bartle is the serious “bro” soldier who takes the boyish Murph under his wing. Murph’s mother, Maureen, (a strong performance by Jennifer Aniston) asks Bartle to keep an eye on her son. Bartle promises her that he will. While Bartle becomes bitter in the face of war and the taunts of Sergeant Sterling (Jack Huston), Murph is so seriously traumatized by the US Army’s murder of innocent Iraqis that he collapses in a deep depressive state. He wanders off into the Iraq desert, alone and naked.
Bartle returns home and becomes the hard-drinking veteran who sleeps on the streets and chokes his own mother, Amy (an always brilliant Toni Collette). It is discovered by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) that the story of Murph going MIA may be completely false. Bartle and Sterling are back home in the states when a CID officer (Jason Patric) shows up looking for answers.
While watching The Yellow Birds, I felt that I was being led on a windy road that lead to meaningless despair. In more capable hands, the film may have been a captivating watch. I have heard that the film was originally to be written and directed by the great David Lowery and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sterling and Will Poulter as Bartle. What we have now is yet another sad, depressing war film with no place in the collection of the great, meaningful cinema of war.–Joey Armstrong