As the Iraq war winds down in 2007, two American soldiers are trapped by a lethal sniper, with only an unsteady wall between them.
Review by Louise Keller:
A powerful microcosm depicting the horrors of war, Doug Liman's tense drama is a heart in mouth affair, as the psychological elements shape our experience. Using the premise that the unknown is more frightening than any enemy you can see, the film relies on the surprising communication between an American soldier investigating a potential sniper and the enemy sniper himself. Liman keeps the tension at fever pitch throughout, as the plight of the soldier goes through the paces: physical anguish juxtaposed with disturbing mind games. The film plays out like a horrific tug of war as it offers a glimpse into the human condition when guilt, courage, frailties, regrets and fears are exposed.
Set in late 2007, as the Iraq war winds down, we are instantly mis en scene in a remote, dusty location where two camouflaged American soldiers (ably played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena) play a waiting game from behind bushes. The wall of the title is a modest hand-built partition comprising un-bonded stones of different shapes and sizes that have been placed on top of each other. It acts as a barricade, dividing the unforgiving landscape where a sniper (possibly the notorious Iraqi sniper nicknamed 'The Angel of Death') has left his mark - in the form of dead bodies.
Much of the film is hard going, like watching Taylor-Johnson's Isaac in excruciating pain trying to extract a bullet from his leg. He is excellent and we are with him all the way throughout his ordeals. There are overtly moving moments, especially in the interactions between Isaac and his Sargeant. The way the communication begins between the sniper (voiced by Laith Nakli) and Isaac takes us by surprise, as does the nature and content of the conversation that includes unlikely topics such as Shakespeare, playing ball and Edgar Allan Poe poetry. The dramatic arcs take shape as the characters respond to the action.
We hang onto every word, every expletive shouted, every cry of pain and every obstacle encountered as hope - along with the drinking water - runs out. A couple of quibbles aside concerning continuity and improbability, The Wall offers a potent drama from a very different angle. The final resolution is as hard hitting and powerful as the topic warrants.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Doug Liman is a powerful filmmaker ... or should I say he makes powerful action films, like The Bourne Identity/Ultimatum/Supremacy. He knows how to generate suspense on screen and is adept at action scenes. The Wall is a suspenseful story, made immediate by the close up cinematography, the desperation of the US GIs pinned down by a hidden sniper - and the sniper's incessant verbal sniping on their shortwave comms, which he has crashed into. That is also one of the key plotpoints but I won't spoil it.
Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Matthews (John Cena) are holed up in their own sniper positions when we meet them, the lack of action gradually making them relax. Fed up, Matthews declares the scene devoid of danger now, the corpses in front of them of construction workers the result of a rebel ambush, he believes.
The mood soon changes with a single shot, soon followed by another - and we are pinned in our seats for the best part of the remaining 80 minutes while the sniper holds them captive by invisible reins of fear and danger.
The screenplay flirts with the idea of turning the Iraqi sniper into a mouthpiece for some apposite observations and questions, but it never really gets into gear. Some of the chatter is borderline silly, but Liman holds it all together with astute filmcraft - and Taylor-Johnson's gritty performance. The gravity of the situation and the hopelessness of the wounded soldier in such situations make for downbeat cinema, however well executed.
The screenplay skims along the surface of topics raised, but confuses with its mixed bag of patriotism and the irrationality of war. The sniper's arrogance and unarticulated motive derive us of the deeper possibilities opened up by the subjects raised, something that would have made this a knock-out.
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WALL, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli
PRODUCER: David Bartis
DIRECTOR: Doug Liman
SCRIPT: Dwain Worrell
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roman Vasyanov
EDITOR: Julia Bloch
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jeff Mann
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 10, 2017