THE WALL

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Doug Liman

Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli.

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Iraq 2007. America’s war on terror in Iraq is supposedly over, yet the bloody fighting continues in rural outposts where militant insurgents still hold power. A vital desert pipeline has come under fire from an unseen enemy sniper. Two US soldiers are sent to investigate this attack on the pipeline, but find they have been drawn into a trap. They find the contractors dead, and before too long they also come under fire from the rogue sniper.

While sniper Shane Matthews (John Cena) lies wounded in the open, his spotter Allen Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) takes cover behind a crumbling brick wall. His radio is shot to pieces and he is running low on water. He communicates with the unseen sniper (a nuanced vocal performance from Laith Nakli), who appears to be well educated, literate and intelligent. The Iraqi sniper wants to get to know Isaac better before he kills him. What follows is a battle of wits and wills between the pair. Through the conversation between Isaac and the sniper, first time feature writer Dwain Worrell explores the morality of the war from different perspectives.

Director Doug Liman, who has made films like Edge Of Tomorrow, The Bourne Identity and Mr And Mrs Smith, has adopted a stripped approach here. This movie cost a modest $3million to make, and it shows in the lean stripped-back production values- there is one set, a couple of actors and a lot of dialogue that is punctuated by the occasional odd angry shot. He has also foregone the usual musical score as he has tried to immerse audiences in the authentic experience of soldiers pinned down on the battlefield. The soundscape heightens the sense of isolation and Liman effectively puts audiences into the thick of the action. This is a well-constructed and tense thriller, but somehow the thin narrative is unable to sustain the interest for the entire duration of its relatively brief 90-minute running time.

Russian cinematographer Roman Vasyanov (End Of Watch, Fury, etc) has shot the film in a warm brownish hue that seems to capture the stifling heat of the desert and the barren landscape. He also works in extreme close-up at times, which heightens the tension and the sense of claustrophobia.

Taylor-Johnson carries the film on his shoulders as he is on screen for the duration of the film. He captures both his character’s fear and machismo as well as portraying his vulnerability as he lies caked in dust and blood. Ina rather underwritten role Cena, a former WWE wrestler turned action star in his own right, is given little to do here.

The ramshackle and crumbling wall that provides a buffer between Isaac and his tormentor almost becomes another character in its own right. This is more of a psychological thriller than a war film. The Wall may be a film about the war in Iraq, but it lacks the grit and muscle of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper or the brutal action of Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor. While The Wall doesn’t offer any fresh insights into the on-going conflict in the Middle East, the irony of the finale perfectly illustrates the futility of this war in Iraq.
★★★

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