To say that the last few months have been tumultuous for Henry Cavill would be a vast understatement. After stepping out of his role in The Witcher (one of Netflix’s biggest hits), Cavill announced his return as Superman after his cameo at the end of Black Adam. However, the new direction that DC and Warner Brothers are taking does not allow Cavill to return, and he won’t be returning to The Witcher either. These aren’t the only instances where Cavill has been denied a franchise; The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s box office disappointment ended a potential saga before it could begin, and Cavill lost out on the role of James Bond to Daniel Craig. It’s unfortunate, as he’s often a much better actor than he’s given credit for, as he proved in the underrated 2017 Netflix film Sand Castle.
Cavill has always had a gravity to him that differentiated him from other movie stars of his generation. He’s shown his versatility in supporting roles, such as his stone-cold seriousness in Mission: Impossible – Fallout and his comedic slant on the world’s greatest detective in Enola Holmes. However, Cavill has been hyped up as a leading man so much that these character parts are few and far between. It’s likely that the legions of fans who clamored for his return to the DCEU haven’t even heard of Sand Castle, but then again, almost no one has. Sand Castle was released to little fanfare during a time when Netflix would essentially barely promote its projects and discard them from the main page after their first week of release.
However, there’s a value in Cavill taking a chance on this smaller film; he gets to show his darker side, humility, and ability to elevate those around him. While there are many films about the Iraq War that have attempted to summarize the lessons learned from “the war on terror,” Sand Castle has a general sense of bleakness that Cavill latches on to. He gives one of the performances of his career as Captain Syverson, a veteran Special Forces operative who gradually becomes aware of his irrelevance.
Cavill Takes a Dark Detour in ‘Sand Castle’
Sand Castle takes place amidst the early stages of the post-9/11 conflict and explores the perspective of the civil affairs soldier Private Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult), a young recruit who can already tell that his service isn’t worthy of any accolades. Ocre fears the man he might end up becoming if he spends another decade overseas, and he attempts to injure himself as a means of getting sent home with an honorable discharge. Ocre’s failure to do so results in his introduction to Syverson, a battle-weary “career man” who is now stuck in an unenviable position of leading humanitarian efforts. In his performance, Cavill gets to embody all the pent-up anxieties that Ocre has been dealing with.
While Cavill is often cast in roles of men who are responding to duty with bravery, Sand Castle‘s Syverson is an interesting example of a character whose optimism has already been squashed; he knows that this work won’t win him any acclaim, but he knows that it is dangerous nonetheless. The grim, brooding nature of Cavill’s performance as Clark Kent in the DCEU films felt out of touch for such an optimistic character, but it’s perfectly utilized here. If Cavill’s Superman was a little too aware of his savior-esque role in society, Syverson lives in depression that he will never be remembered.
Cavill Does Not Play a Hero in ‘Sand Castle’
There have been countless attempts to recapture R. Lee Ermey’s iconic role in Full Metal Jacket, but Cavill adds a refreshing new slant on a sergeant welcoming new recruits. Syverson is blunt, and while he’s not particularly abusive, he doesn’t offer inspirational speeches to inspire his men. There aren’t many details shared about Syverson’s early life or goals in Sand Castle, which was the perfect way to show his distance from Ocre. Ocre feels divorced from meaning amidst his service, and he doesn’t get any from Syverson. It’s the perfect type of slightly removed performance that embodies the bleak nature of Sand Castle.
Rather than anything that would show off his physicality, Syverson is given the task of filling a pump station in an Afghan village with water. It’s a grueling task, and in what almost feels like a note of self-awareness on Cavill’s part, he feels like his talents are being wasted. If Cavill’s Superman never really felt like a hero, Syverson is openly met with contempt. Even if he dies working towards saving this village from poverty, the locals will never view him as a hero. This is particularly evident in his conversations with the local village leader Arif (Nabil Elouahabi), who condemns the military’s failures to protect civilians from enemy fire.
Syverson Is Cavill’s Most Disturbing Role
We also get to see Cavill portray a disturbing complexity in Sand Castle that’s absent in his blockbuster roles as his character hints at his growing xenophobia and self-hatred. Despite being British, Cavill’s characters are often symbols of the American spirit, whether they’re superheroes, super spies, or CIA agents. Syverson shows the dark side of democracy as he angrily condemns the local civilians with racist comments. During one of the most disturbing scenes, Syverson speaks to an Arab who cannot interpret him and delivers an offensive tirade, showing how racism has infected all corners of American culture.
It’s often said that people like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise are “character actors in a movie star’s body,” but Cavill has not been given the chance to show that he’s more than a marquee idol. It doesn’t seem like that’s changing anytime soon, as Cavill’s next roles include his potential lead role in the Warhammer adaptation and another world-class spy in the espionage film Argyle. It would be exciting to see Cavill take a chance on more things like Sand Castle, and hopefully it will stand as a precedent, and not an anomaly in his career.[via]