The Yellow Birds

Studio: Saban Films / Lionsgate / DirecTV
Directed by Alexandre Moors

Jun 15, 2018 Web Exclusive
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The Yellow Birds doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the war genre but finds subtle ways to evoke the emotions of the characters to create a modestly compelling watch. Director Alexandre Moors (whose last film Blue Caprice is one worth seeking out) knows how to operate on a small scale, creating tense and dramatic scenarios.

Alden Ehrenreich stars as Brandon Bartle, who takes a young solider named Daniel Murphy – or “Murph” - (Tye Sheridan) under his wing while deployed in Iraq. Murph is a few years younger than Brandon and is visibly nervous and in a constant state of unease with his deployment. Brandon quickly becomes a big brother; he mocks him, teases him about girls but ultimately cares about it and feels protective. There is a natural, almost immediate bond between the two, which gives The Yellow Birds a bit of a beating heart.

The movie operates through flashbacks to the war and the soldiers back home, where Brandon never really feels totally comfortable. Haunted by an incident that occurred in Iraq, Brandon is rarely able to get out bed, let alone have a civil conversation with his mother Amy (Toni Collette). The film sets up an already contentious relationship between Brandon and Amy but keeps it all on the surface without ever really exploring the depths of their seemingly complicated bond.

Written by David Lowery (who gave us last year’s best film in A Ghost Story) and R.F.I. Porto, based on the novel by Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds is at its best when showing the rapport between Brandon and Murph or exploring Brandon’s assimilation into normal life back home. Anything in between feels fleeting, including a portion with Sergeant Sterling (Jack Houston), whose story never feels truly completed.

At face value, The Yellow Birds appears to be a stitched together collection of familiar war film scenes, but the movie culminates into a satisfying emotional coda that involves Jennifer Aniston’s character. Her role is limited but it’s nice to see the actress perform another dramatic role. Ehrenreich is strong in those moments – and throughout the film – finding ways to move within the character and remind us he is fine actor, making good on the promise shown early on with Hail, Caesar.

The Yellow Birds doesn’t wallow in the battlefield or take the obvious route of “war is hell,” which is easy for movies to do. War is hell and we know that, but The Yellow Birds wants to show how war lingers. That gives The Yellow Birds an emotional edge.

Author rating: 6/10

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