Wall, The (2017)Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/16/17 03:04:21
Usually, Roger Ebert's line about long and short movies is used in praise of lengthy yet electrifying films; I suspect it will get some use in the other direction here, because while "The Wall" is a mere 81 minutes long, it still drags on occasion, particularly during a center section that never quite manages to be the game of carry and mouse it strives for. At least being compact means that the good parts don't get completely drowned out.The action takes place in 2007, with the Iraq war winding down, but not completely over: At a pipeline construction site, six people lie dead, all from headshots, and an American sniper team is staking the area out to see if the killer is still there. After eighteen hours, shooter Matthews (John Cena) decides that the he is gone, though spotter Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) thinks otherwise. Isaac, of course, is right, but their target is canny enough not to show his hand until the Americans have moved to open ground with just the remains of a stone wall as potential cover, and he's a sadist to boot.
Director Doug Liman has had his ups and downs as a filmmaker, and because of that he does not always get credit for how strong the action in his movies has been. Like the rest of the film, it's pared down to the bare essentials here, a wide-open field with minimal cover, shots wide enough to give an idea of the challenge of hitting distant targets, even as movements of inches in close-up can be crucial. Isaac and Matthews are limited by injuries from very early on, and neither Liman nor writer Dwain Worrell cheats with that; they use it to increase the stakes without having to rely on a score or a lot of verbal explanation (the general use of sound, on the other hand, is terrific). There are only two major action scenes, but those two sequences are excellent, with Liman making every one of the mere handful of shots fired count.
Those bits are so good that once the film's second big action sequence starts up, it seems like the filmmakers have been stalling for time in order to separate them. That's not entirely fair - it's slowly revealed that the film is doing an interesting appropriation of horror-movie material for its very grounded war story beyond the blood and guts Mel Gibson brought to Heartbreak Ridge, and Liman does a nifty job of revealing the true situation with visuals and not having the characters explain things to each other and the audience. Unfortunately, with the plot-oriented material so stripped down, the characters are stuck talking about themselves, and that doesn't turn out to be a terribly interesting set of topics, especially since a lot of it is defiantly refusing to say anything. That defiance doesn't turn out to be telling itself, nor does it really reflect the way that the action plays out. It's just what's necessary.
Given that, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena are pretty decent as the sniper team. It's a straightforward odd-couple pairing, with professional wrestler Cena the charismatic guy you'd expect on the recruiting poster giving a casual confidence to the vulgar banter he exchanges with Taylor-Johnson's bedraggled teammate who looks a little more at home down in the dirt. It's not surprising that Taylor-Johnson is given the material with more emotional heft, but they both manage to communicate some of the same properties in different ways - though neither soldier comes off as a big-picture thinker, Matthews's brute-force toughness and Isaac's stubborn, desperate improvisation could each work out. There's not much beyond those two, just Laith Nakli doing good work as a voice on the other end of a radio.As a fan of compact thrillers, I like the contained ambition of "The Wall", especially since it delivers on its filmmakers' plans a few times. Still, If this were two hours, I'd want it to be one and a half. At 82 minutes, I still feel like some material could be trimmed or punched up.
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