The Yellow Birds is an Iraq war movie, following Bartle (Aldren Ehrenreich Solo: A Star Wars Story) and Murphy (Tye Sheridan Ready Player One) as they go to war and Murphy never returns. Set both before Bartle and Murphy go to war, during their time there and Bartle’s return and struggle with Murphy’s MIA status, the film is one that passes you by without making an impact.
I struggled with this movie a lot. Not because it was a war film, but because of how it was structured and executed. One of the main problems with this film is that the concept is overused in film generally. War films originating from America, especially ones which focus on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars come out so often that the bar has been set very high, and this film simply did not reach it. I feel like I have watched hundreds of movies with this concept of boy goes to war and comes back different because of his experiences. The movie plods along in the warfare, and training parts of the film. Instead of giving the war some context, there isn’t any and the film is very basic in its set up and execution that leaves you wanting more.
I think the main problem is with how the film is edited. Instead of showing the before, during and after, with revealing the mystery of where Murphy is at the climax, they cut the movie up. You flick from during the war, to training, to after, to a scene where Murphy looks troubled back to after. It feels very collage-y, pieced together to create tension where all that is created is confusion at where in the timeline you are.
Some positives were the music, it was incredible, definitely one of the best parts of the movie. Alongside that were some amazing acting from the main 3 soldiers, Ehrenreich as one of them, and the performance of Jack Huston (Kill Your Darlings) as the hot-headed sergeant is so good that the movie pops alive during his scenes. However, the script lets them down. The performances are great, but the writing makes you feel nothing towards these characters. Alongside the strange way the film is edited, you never really feel connected to the characters and their arcs. The acting is great from the 3 leading men, but if they had been given more space it would have been show stopping.
The film is full of self-importance, they think the message that they are trying to portray is new and ground-breaking. But it’s not really, in the overused Iraq war genre, and the drag it takes to get to the reveal, the scene where they show what happened to Murphy is lost among everything else. All the moments up to that reveal have dragged out the importance of what happened to Murphy, something you expect more from especially as someone (Spoiler Alert) killed themselves over it. Yet everything before that moment is so completely average that the message is completely lost. The moment you think is so painful it can’t be articulated is bogged down by the lack of emotion you feel towards the characters, and even the context of the war. It should be powerful, it should be heart-breaking and difficult to watch. But in the overused genre, with the structure of the film and the script, it doesn’t have the impact that it needs. It’s completely devoid of emotion, and you end up questioning the morals of the decisions that were made.
Overall, The Yellow Birds is weighed down by how important they think the film and the message is. With some incredible music and some star-stunning acting, the film manages to still be pretty average. But instead of creating a structured piece with context and political/emotional commentary to really drive home the message and make this film one of the better war films in the genre, it lacks sympathy and cohesion.