The Yellow Birds: Is the 2017 Film Based on a Real War Story?

‘The Yellow Birds’ is a war film that recounts the time Daniel Murphy and John Bartle, two young men from Virginia, spent in an army unit together during the Iraq War. The two are dropped into a war neither is prepared for. With another battle on the horizon as each day passes, the horrors of the war begin to take over, and the two soldiers only have each other to rely on through it all. But when it comes time to return home, only Bartle manages to make it back, with Murphy’s whereabouts a complete mystery. Directed by Alexandre Moors, the 2017 film stars Tye Sheridan, Alden Ehrenreich, Toni Collette, Jason Patric, Jack Huston, and Jennifer Aniston.

‘The Yellow Birds’ presents to the viewers a realistic depiction of war through a series of interchanging scenes that show the present time for Bartle and his and Murphy’s time during the war. The presentation of some of the problems that soldiers face out on the battlefield, such as physical fatigue and the mental stress that comes from constant danger, is presented with consideration and authenticity that transports the viewers into the characters’ shoes. This is enough for anybody to wonder about the true origins of the story and whether it has any basis in reality or not. Worry not, for we have the answers for you!

The Yellow Birds: Adaptation from Kevin Powers’ Novel

No, ‘The Yellow Birds’ is not a true story. It has been adapted for the silver screen from the eponymous novel by Kevin Powers. However, Powers is an Iraq War veteran himself and wrote the book based on his own experiences during the war, which grounds both the source material and the adaptation into reality. Having said that, unlike most war films, ‘The Yellow Birds’ is not the most violent in its depiction of war.

Instead, it takes a more humanistic approach, with characters sharing their experiences on the battlefield through conversations and with tense, harrowing expressions on their faces. Bartle’s blank, far-off look both on and off the battlefield is a clear example of this. War is not an easy subject to digest for anybody, so one can only imagine what it would be like for the actors to step into the shoes of these characters and experience all those raw emotions firsthand.

“War movies aren’t usually my thing; I find them very hard to watch,” Jennifer Aniston said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “[But] the way this script read, and the vision that Alex had — it was really connecting into the humanity of the soldiers; the parents that are left behind waiting, counting the minutes; the loss of innocence.” Director Alexandre Moors stages whatever little sequences of fighting there are with handheld cameras that emphasize the disorientation that soldiers go through when they feel like death approaches from all sides.

Along with the cinematography and editing, the actors themselves had to go through a two-week boot camp to gain a better understanding of their roles, revealed Tye Sheridan in an interview with Deadline. “We had 25 guys on our squad,” Sheridan said. “They’d wake us up in the middle of the night and we’d do night patrols. They did such a good job of making it feel real. You could start to understand and start to tap into someone’s mentality who might be at war, and whose life might be at risk.”

Jack Huston, who takes on the role of Sergeant Sterling in the film, added, “It gave me a newfound respect for these guys who are deployed and actually fighting. They get quite a hard rap. A lot of people have ideas of whether we should or shouldn’t go to war, but that has nothing to do with these guys who are over there fighting, and that’s brutal.”

‘The Yellow Bird’ touches upon the themes of disillusionment and trauma that a lot of young soldiers experience when they come back home, as well as the grief and anguish of those families that are left behind when the soldiers don’t return at all. Author Kevin Powers’ own experience in the Iraq War clearly shines through as none of the emotions seem secondhand or fake in this otherwise fictional narrative.

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