‘Sand Castle’ Gives An Inside Look At The Iraq War

Netflix just won't stop making big movies. In a year that's already seen hit original releases like Burning Sands, Girlfriends Day, and The Discovery, comes Sand Castle, a war drama starring Nicholas Hoult and Henry Cavill. You'd think with big stars like that the movie would get a theatrical release, but nope, Netflix scooped it up. But regardless of how the movie makes its way to viewers, its content is important and timely, as it takes place during the Iraq War. So knowing that, you may be wondering: is Sand Castle based on a true story?

In a way, yes. The film is the debut script from screenwriter Chris Roessner, who based it on his own experiences as a machine gunner for the army in Iraq's Sunni Triangle in 2003. The film tells the story of a group of American soldiers who find themselves in a dangerous situation trying to save the Iraqi village of Baqubah. Roessner, who enlisted in the armed forces when he was just 17, says he got the idea to become a screenwriter after watching Platoon in Saddam Hussein's palace. Here's what he told henrycavill.org about the film's genesis:

"I served in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq during the initial invasion. This was 2003-2004. I spent a year there and, even before, knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. I remember seeing Oliver Stone’s film Platoon at 3 am. I was in Saddam Hussein’s palace in Tikrit and the film ended just as the sun was coming up. It was a moment changed my life. I thought... I had no idea you could make a film so deeply personal, so poetic, about the journey through war and the search for meaning. It wasn’t a ‘mission’ movie. That is to say it wasn’t a film about one particular goal, but it was more experiential. It was a film about searching, about the struggle for a young man to keep his soul intact even though the war was trying to corrupt it. I wanted to do something akin to that. You could trace this movie back to that moment in 2004."

And while some characters and details of the film are based on Roessner's own war experiences, the film itself is not a recreation of something that actually happened to him. It's inspired by his experiences, but it's not necessarily based on a true story. In an interview with Go Into The Story's Scott Myers back in 2013, after Roessner's script had made the 2012 Black List but before it had been picked up, the writer admits that the main plot of the movie, which has to do with repairing an aqueduct in the village, didn't even come about until his third or fourth draft:

"The aqueduct is one of those devices that didn’t show up until several drafts in. This movie didn’t have a plot until the third or fourth draft. It was just a bunch of scenes on a clothesline, not really relating to each other. We talked about Bridge on the River Kwai and I think that’s how we stumbled onto the aqueduct as the story that would be the thrust of the war but also something that wasn’t arbitrary."

So while Sand Castle is inspired by Chris Roessner's real army experience, it's not necessarily based on an actual event. However, it's still a very accurate portrayal of what life was like in the Iraq War, written by someone who knows.