Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sundance with Abe: The Yellow Birds

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fourth time. I had the chance to see a number of films and will be posting reviews of everything I see!

The Yellow Birds
Directed by Alexandre Moors
U.S. Dramatic Competition – Special Jury Award Winner for Best Cinematography

There is plenty of tragedy in war. It’s rare that someone goes to a military zone and comes back unchanged, and those lucky ones who do return home are often haunted by their experiences in battle and suffer extreme difficulty in adjusting back to civilian life. When two soldiers are close and one returns without the other, it can be a devastating experience. When one soldier’s fate is unknown, it is impossible for those who knew him to move on, trapping all those involved in a horrifying moment they’ll never be able to escape.

Bartle (Alden Ehrenreich) and Murph (Tye Sheridan) are only three years apart in age when they enlist, and they become the go-to guys for their commanding officer, Sergeant Sterling (Jack Huston). Bartle doesn’t have an especially warm relationship with his mother (Toni Collette), but Murph is extremely close with his mother Maureen (Jennifer Aniston) and veteran father Jim (Lee Tergesen). Before they ship out, Maureen asks Bartle to tell her first if something should happen to her son. After a harrowing tour, when Bartle returns a different man and Murph is missing in action, Maureen will stop at nothing to find out what happened to her son.

Bartle narrates the film and explains at the beginning that he can’t tell this particular story in order. It’s a mystery why that is, since the forced attempt to keep the specifics of what happened to the missing soldier unknown to the audience, a jumbled sequence of scenes, presents a story that, in all honesty, really isn’t that interesting. Many films have told tales of soldiers becoming close while at war, and this film offers nothing new or especially compelling with that relationship. Instead, it sequences its events deliberately to point towards an ending that doesn’t seem worth the journey and offers little clarification for the film’s purpose.

Ehrenreich will forever be referred to as the future Han Solo, and he demonstrates solid acting ability here alongside Sheridan, who got his start at Sundance with “Mud” and delivers a believable and human performance. Huston is strong in a role he doesn’t tend to play, but Aniston muddles the film’s seriousness with an ineffective portrayal of a grieving mother. The film as a whole doesn’t seem to have a true purpose, and there have been countless war stories more worth making and watching.


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