The Wall Movie Review
Live. Die. Repent.
Review by Jason Roestel (B)
THE PLOT: It's 2007 and George W. Bush has declared the Iraq war over. A fact completely lost on an Iraqi sniper named Juba "The Ghost" (Nakli) who is still engaging and annihilating as many western targets as he can find with his rifle scope. When a sniper team (Taylor-Johnson, Cena) stumble upon a construction site littered with the corpses of dead contractors - both military and construction - on an ordinary recon mission they're soon confronted by the terrible truth that perhaps their war isn't as over as they'd been informed it was.
THE FILM: In the opening minutes of Doug Liman's cramped new thriller The Wall we learn what it is to be a successful sniper in the theater of war. An American sniper team, lead by beefcake Staff Sgt. Shane Matthews and Sgt. Allan "Ize" Isaac - imported hillbilly with a spotting scope and a bottom lip packed full of Copenhagen - spend the better part of eighteen hours motionless, camouflaged, scouting what looks like the heroin massacre from No Country For Old Men three hundred yards in front of their position. Oil pipeline workers bodies lay scattered across the Iraqi badlands. The heavily armored and heavily armed bodies of American military contractors lay among them. Outside of abandoned equipment, an unfinished pipeline, some rubble from an old bombed-out school, (herein lies that wall) and construction containers there's not much else to look at. The signs of the instigator of this carnage come down to a single, eerie detail.
All these bodies died from headshots.
From The Wall's opening we ascertain that being a prosperous sniper means exercising a supernatural amount of patience. Thankfully, this film's 81-minute running time doesn't require the same degree of perseverance. Though the economy of this war movie may prove to be more impressive than the actual movie itself, there's still much to savor over in this micro-budgeted, single-stage thriller. For a feature featuring two on-screen actors and an additional providing voice-only work (our enemy sniper, known in hushed tones around the FOB mess tent as Juba "The Ghost," who, as it turns out, happens to be a short wave radio chatterbox, lending an actual "script" to the sparsity of The Wall's extra lean content - we'll get to that below) and a desolate patch of Iraqi badlands, there's still much to be interested in in the scaled-down combat scenario Liman presents to us.
At the ranges these elite warriors fight at bullets rip into targets well before we ever detect them audibly. The snap precedes the blast by several seconds. There's really no way to find relaxation in a film where the immediate, graphic destruction of a well-placed, high caliber bullet can interrupt the probationary serenity of the piece, it's hard not to find yourself creeping toward your seat edge periodically. Juba's an archangel of a marksman. He never misses. Even when it seems as if he has - he never misses. Liman even adds a minor class in tabulating ballistic acoustics in The Wall as Sgt. Isaac scratches out formulas in the dust in an effort to at least hone in on how far away his nemesis lies.
This wounded kid from the American heartland is incredibly outmatched, the refuge of this seemingly insignificant wall becomes absolutely vital to his indelibility. For the limited resources Doug Liman has to dip into, there's a surprising amount of tension and ingenuity on display. This cobbled together rock wall becomes the centerpiece of an assassin's game of Jenga. Stones are pulled to open up peeping gaps. With every stone plucked the risks that the remnants of the wall will finally collapse grow. The risk that a well calculated bullet will find a gateway grows. All while Juba chastises his young, American target - unseen. A Djinn for all intents and purposes.
Dwain Worrell's script attempts to distill 14 years of the bureaucratic quagmire of the Iraq war and American foreign policy down into a single conversation between predator and prey on a lone dust-blanketed arena. This script seems divided between allowing Aaron Taylor-Johnson some genuine moments of either improvisation or natural dialog with himself, and the dialog he has with his adversary over his radio. The best writing in this film is the conversations Sgt. Isaac has with Sgt. Isaac. It's a fragile intimacy threatened by the bigger picture. The perfect metaphor for war. The material between he and "The Ghost" is less convincing. It's standard issue military thriller gab. It does however fatten up an extremely lean movie, though with The Wall's overt cynicism and minimalism it's difficult to understand Liman's choice to try to lend his motion picture some sensational flair, when it seems counter-intuitive to the indie-leaning finale he ultimately drives his movie toward.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.