The Wall

 

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Three men in Iraq find no end to a war that is officially over.

 
The Wall
  

The director Doug Liman may be best known for popular action films such as The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow but with the brilliant Fair Game (2010) he showed how adept he could be in handling deeper fare. Now with The Wall he confirms his skill again, but this time with a very different kind of film. This is a movie set in Iraq in 2007 at a time when the war there was said to have ended, but two American soldiers sent out to reconnoitre and investigate find themselves at the mercy of a defiant Iraqi sniper who has killed contractors working at the site of an oil pipeline. Also part of this landscape is a surviving wall once part of a school which will provide some protection from the sniper's bullets.

 

We hear but do not see Laith Nakli who voices the role of this enemy while the Americans whom we do see are Sergeant Matthews (John Cena) and his spotter, Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). And that’s it: with no other roles, this piece is even more contained than 2002’s Phone Booth in which Colin Farrell’s character was trapped in a telephone box by a sniper who had him in his sights.

 

The intimate nature of the material could not be further from the epic scale of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, yet Liman is seeking to do here exactly what Nolan aimed at there: to put the audience into the position of the characters on screen. Aided by the atmospheric colour and ’Scope photography by Roman Vasyanov (the desert wastes of Southern California stand in perfectly for Iraq), Liman brings this off admirably and the film is a triumph for Aaron Taylor-Johnson. This is his second American role since it follows on from Nocturnal Animals and he is wholly persuasive in a part which in effect requires him to carry the whole film. The absence of flashbacks and the limited background information about the characters together with the decision not to visualise the Iraqi who makes radio contact with Isaac add significantly to the film’s ability to make the viewer feel that he or she is sharing in the experience.

 

This is all made to seem admirably authentic, but for my part (and I hope that many viewers will disagree) I found less conviction in the long conversations between the sniper and his target: you can at times regard it as a cat and mouse game, but as the talk goes on and the Iraqi turns out to be a teacher who admires Shakespeare and starts quoting from Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Frost what he has to say comes to seem more set-up than wholly believable. In my eyes that weakens an otherwise small-scale but impressive film. Nevertheless, The Wall is certainly worth a look and it should add to Taylor-Johnson’s growing prestige.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

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

 

Dir Doug Liman, Pro David Bartis, Screenplay Dwain Worrell, Ph Roman Vasyanov, Pro Des Jeff Mann, Ed Julia Bloch, Costumes Cindy Evans, Sound Mariusz Glabinski.

 

Amazon Studios/Big Indie/Picrow-StudioCanal.
88 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 28th July 2017. Cert. 15.