The Yellow Birds Review
The Yellow Birds (2017), Film Review from the 33rd Annual Sundance Film Festival, a movie directed by Alexandre Moors, starring Tye Sheridan, Jack Huston, Alden Ehrenreich, Jason Patric, Toni Collette, and Jennifer Aniston.
The Yellow Birds, director Alexandre Moors‘ sophomore feature, aims to present another (fictional) side to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars of the early 2000’s. With only a few battle scenes reminiscent of those seen in the Oscar-nominated American Sniper, the film is less of an action-packed feature and more of a slow-burning drama. Though much of the mystery is fairly predictable, the experience is still stressful and heartbreaking, sucking the viewer into the question, “What happened to Daniel Murphy?”
Based on the award-winning 2012 novel of the same name by Kevin Powers, we’re introduced to two new Army recruits, Brandon Bartle (Aldon Ehrenreich) and Daniel Murphy (Tye Sheridan) as they finish boot camp and are quickly shipped out at the beginning of the war. At an on-base family gathering prior to being deployed, Brandon naïvely promises Daniel’s mother, Maureen (Jennifer Aniston), that he will personally ensure her son returns home alive. When she receives a mysterious letter from her son – after she’s been informed by the military that he has gone missing in battle – Maureen sets out like only a “mama bear” can to figure out exactly what happened to her son.
The solution to the mystery, as mentioned above, isn’t all that surprising. But it is captivating due to the way the drama unfolds on screen: told through alternating timelines, the flashbacks of deployment mirror the present day search for truth. This proves powerful and creates a lack of trust in every character. What is everybody hiding? Is Daniel being protected by Army buddies? Did something go awry? Why are Army top brass giving Maureen the run-around? Is his disappearance related to a classified operation? If Daniel was missing at the time the letter was written, who wrote it – and why? And what about that promise from Brandon to Maureen? Is Daniel still alive?
The film is such a welcome entry into the war genre. It’s not particularly brilliant nor does it measure up to the classics, but it does illuminate much-needed light on the human suffering, the emotional toll that war inflicts on those in battle, on innocent bystanders, and on those waiting at home in chronic anxiety about the fate of their loved ones.
The inclusion of and focus on the women in the lives of the men who go to battle is also very refreshing. As the two timelines unfold in tandem, it becomes clear that Maureen is also a tough soldier growing weary of what seems to be an insurmountable battle of grief, confusion, and deep sadness. Aniston plays the part with perfection, proving that even the most unexpected among us can – and will – rise to the occasion when we have no other choice.
The Yellow Birds is screening at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in the competitive U.S. Dramatic competition category and has yet to be acquired for distribution.
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Image Source: Sundance Institute