Making a late appearance in the Iraq War movie cycle, the impressively acted “The Yellow Birds” manages to leave an affecting mark even as it constantly struggles to find a distinctive voice of its own.
The melancholic mystery-drama, based on the poetic 2012 novel by Kevin Powers, is seen through the battle-scarred eyes of a soldier (a nicely rooted Alden Ehrenreich) who returns home with a crippling case of PTSD, while his younger war buddy (Tye Sheridan) never made the trip back for reasons that will become clearer as the disturbing story progresses.
From early on, the David Lowery and R.F.I. Porto adaptation contains the right balance of grit and gravitas; and, although it’s clear the film’s release was intended to piggyback onto Ehrenreich’s “Solo” turn, the rest of the cast, including Toni Collette and Jennifer Aniston as the soldiers’ quite different but equally concerned mothers, deliver uniformly naturalistic performances.
Given the tight close-ups preferred by French director Alexandre Moors and cinematographer Daniel Landin, the cast doesn’t have much choice but to keep things contained, but whenever the camera pulls back, Moors demonstrates a weakness for tried-and-true war-movie tropes recalling “Apocalypse Now,” “The Hurt Locker” and “American Sniper.”
Ultimately, the enemy of “The Yellow Birds” is that formidable familiarity.
‘The Yellow Birds’
Rating: R, for war violence, some grisly images, sexual material, and language throughout
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: starts June 15, Laemmle Royal, West L.A.; also on VOD and DirecTV