Set in 2007 in the last official days of the Iraq war, Doug Liman’s latest film The Wall reworks, into a reasonably tense psychological thriller, the familiar scenario of the deadly unseen sniper pinning his prey.
The film sees two American snipers Allen Isaac (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and Shane Matthews (John Cena) surveilling what seems to be a regulation attack on a construction site on a dry dusty windswept and very remote Iraqi plain. When Matthews is floored by a hidden sniper’s bullet Isaac is forced to take cover behind a crumbling wall. This becomes his only defence as the sniper (Laith Nakli) begins a malevolent cat and mouse game threatening his life and taunting him psychologically through his radio headset.
We’ve witnessed this sniper scenario in films like Full Metal Jacket and Phone Booth yet, despite the familiar set-up, the sense of threat is no less potent here as Isaac’s every move risks death. His nemesis like all good movie snipers is seemingly omniscient (not to mention arrogant) as he psychoanalyses Isaac attempting to dismantle him mentally.
The film touches on powerful issues such as the dubious political rationale for America’s Iraq invasion and the consequences for soldiers of the Bush government’s ill-conceived plans but Dwain Worrell’s script, while often compelling, doesn’t explore these issues in sufficient depth. The focus is more on the intense byplay between sniper and victim and as such is almost a two-hander that at times feels like a filmed play.
Aaron Taylor Johnson at first delivers an irritating, manic, squeaking performance as Isaac but as the threat and tension escalate and Isaac’s situation becomes more dire, Johnson compellingly conveys both desperation and defiance. While not required to do a lot, Cena has the sort of square-jawed stoicism that makes for a convincing soldier. As their invisible hunter, Laith Nakli evokes both malevolence and intelligence.
Tense, at times quite sinister and occasionally thought-provoking, The Wall has the raw materials for a classic thriller but it never quite brings them together for a completely satisfying film.
Nick’s rating: ***
Genre: War/ drama.
Director(s): Doug Liman.
Release date: 10th Aug 2017.
Running time: 88 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show