A lyrical and bitterly sad drama about boys ruined by war, Alexandre Moors’s film succeeds on style while falling short on plot. Young actor of the moment Alden Ehrenreich plays Brandon Bartle, an aimless Army enlistee who befriends an even younger new solider, 18-year-old Daniel Murphy, a gentle soul played by Tye Sheridan. As the film loops between timelines—pre-, during, and post-deployment—we learn that something bad has happened involving Daniel. The Yellow Birds is loosely built as a mystery, but mostly the film feels like an excuse for Moors to create striking visual after striking visual, as Bartle and Murph traverse fiery desert hells and dreamy moonscapes. There are some truly stunning shots in The Yellow Birds (credit also to cinematographer Daniel Landin), and Moors’s aesthetic feast almost makes up for the story’s flatness. But not quite. The answer to the mystery is brutal but somehow unsatisfying, and the film’s insights into life in war feel like retreads of other Iraq/Afghanistan movies that have come before. But the performances are strong. Ehrenreich yet again proves his mettle as a rising star (he’ll be Han Solo soon), and Jennifer Aniston gives a nice, understated turn as Brandon’s mother, who is on a dogged quest for answers about her son. Mostly, though, The Yellow Birds makes me eager to see what Moors does next. (His last film was Blue Caprice—will some sort of “red” movie cap his primary colors trilogy?) He’s got a real eye for composition and structure, and ends The Yellow Birds with a beautiful, haunting, entirely unexpected closing shot. He’s an intriguing filmmaker, even if this film is a soggy downer.