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‘The Wall’ (review)

Produced by Dave Bartis
Written by Dwain Worrell
Directed by Doug Liman
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson,
John Cena, Laith Nakli

 

Many war movies make use of explosions, gore, and ear-shattering effects to drive home the feeling of the battlefield. But what of the quieter and equally deadly encounters, where a few soldiers may be trapped in a life-threatening situation posed by a single well-placed threat?

The Wall lets us see this scenario with an intimate portrait of the will to simply survive when nothing seems to be aligned in one’s favor.

The story centers around two soldiers who have been pinned down by a lethally accurate Iraqi sniper. As the standoff goes on, both parties attempt to learn more about the motivations and character of their enemy.

What follows is a battle of wits and perseverance where life hangs in the balance.

This is a fairly short movie, but it makes good use of the time. At a mere 90 minutes, it manages to tell a fully engaging tale with little dead air. This can be difficult with war movies, especially ones as Spartan in effects and characters as this. Hearing and seeing the pain and weariness on Isaac’s face (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) while he slowly bleeds out under the Iraqi sun should not be as captivating as it is. But the voice of Juba (Laith Nakli) infiltrating the military radio makes for a wonderful dialogue that shifts from nameless enemies to a strangely conversational tone over the hour and a half. I dare not ruin the ending for you but I left the theater surprised and a bit startled.

There is little to say about cinematography outside of the excellent use of tight shots. But how else would the story be told, when the character has only a few feet of wall to crouch behind (or be dispatched with haste)? There is nothing but a trash heap, some vehicles, the wall, and a few bodies here and there to provide set dressing. This film is heavily dependent on the emotional investment of the audience in the actors.

Luckily, Taylor-Johnson shines as Isaac, an injured soldier. His performance feels genuine and heart-breaking when the severity of the situation becomes clear. He elicits empathy not in a #TeamUSA way, but in an investment in the human experience. As stated in song, “Who the f*** wants to die alone all dried up in the desert sun?” Nakli is equally interesting as the voice that haunts the radio. His calm and collected delivery is a sharp contrast from Isaac’s straightforward Southern backtalk. There’s an air of refinement in Nakli’s delivery that makes his actions seem detached from emotional investment even when his words are full of meaning and poetry. Yes, actual poetry. This is a fairly interesting movie. To talk in length about John Cena would be to give away plot points, but he is serviceable in this role and I generally enjoyed his performance. But all glory goes to Taylor-Johnson for keeping the viewer guessing and interested.

War is difficult to portray on the screen in a way that feels honest to the situations soldiers face. The Wall is a decent example of the success found in taking one momentary conflict and exploring it thoroughly. The pared down set and cast list are strengths rather than weaknesses. Only someone who has been in the field can truly judge the accuracy of this film, but as a viewer my heart was sitting right behind that crumbling wall in a desert far away.

At least for 90 minutes.

 

 

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