Wednesday 27 January 2021

Movie Review: The Yellow Birds (2017)

A drama about the horrors of war and resultant psychological trauma, The Yellow Birds trudges through well-worn terrain with familiar characters and a banal battlefield mystery.

Private John Bartle (Alden Ehrenreich) returns from the Iraq War traumatized by what happened to his friend Private Daniel Murphy (Tye Sheridan). Flashbacks reveal the friendship between the two men developing from their training days under the guidance of Sergeant Sterling (Jack Huston) through to deployment and various difficult under-fire episodes.

Now Bartle refuses to communicate with his mother Amy (Toni Collette) and avoids Captain Anderson (Jason Patric), who is investigating what happened to Murphy. Meanwhile Murphy's mother Maureen (Jennifer Aniston) is desperate to learn her son's fate.

Battlefield mysteries and post traumatic stress disorder stories inspired by American involvement in Middle East wars have already featured in productions of various quality including Courage Under Fire (1996), Jarhead (2005), In The Valley Of Elah (2007)The Hurt Locker (2008), Stop-Loss (2008), Brothers (2009) and American Sniper (2014). Lacking anything new to say, The Yellow Birds unfortunately flies in lazy circles, unsurprisingly failing to extract any fresh drama from shrivelled material.

Director Alexandre Moors and writers David Lowery and R.F.I. Porto, adapting the Kevin Powers book, assemble the tired pieces with minimal heart and soul, resulting in a depressing and derivative tone. The time jumps between Bartle's present doldrums and his earlier training and battlefield encounters do little to camouflage the threadbare content. The resolution of Murphy's story adds to the sense of abject narrative incompetence, given the well-established value of a captured soldier in enemy hands.

The visuals are adequate, the action scenes in the dusty streets of Baghdad (filmed in Morocco) are rationally edited, and the cast members are better than their limited character definitions, with Huston and Patric particularly wasted. But despite some decent flaps, The Yellow Birds bumbles away into forgettable air.

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