The Wall Review
Edwin Starr once posed a very important question: war, what is it good for? The answer, he gave, was absolutely nothing and I guess that is that is right in its own way. I would, however, argue that there are tons of great movies that have come out of famous conflicts. Most can be pushed aside as action fare, full of firefights and explosions, but some directors have used the topic of war as a catalyst to raise their films to the level of true art. Films like Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter, and Apocalypse Now are not only great war movies but also consistently rank as some of the greatest films of all time. They can explore human emotion in the most intense and harsh environments where we see the bleakest presentations and most heroic examples of humanity. Now a new war film comes to Blu-ray and DVD from the director of The Bourne Identity, Live Die Repeat, and American Made, starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena. It comes with a very interesting premise - the whole film takes place in one single location behind The Wall.
Set during the Iraq War, a sniper team consisting of Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews and Sergeant Allen Isaac are doing overwatch duty. They have been investigating a pipeline construction site. However, the crew have all been killed by sniper fire. When the pair goes down to get a closer look they are pinned down behind a wall and they must use their wits to try and get out safely, all the while an enemy sniper has them in the crosshairs. The Wall has a unique premise. It is essentially a film that consists of one set, three characters and a whole lot of dialogue. I commend writer Dwain Worrell with the way that he was able to create a story that is so pared down and it is great to see someone trying to do something different. It is similar to Phone Booth or Grand Piano, both these films and The Wall are a test of wits between two individuals, one who seemingly has all the power and the other with none, but over the course of the film these circumstances change and fluctuate leading to great moments of tension and filmmaking.
Unfortunately, beyond that simple premise, this film has little to offer. This is more like an elevator pitch than an actual movie, which is a great shame because I would have loved to have to seen this pulled off. The main problems are threefold. The first is the way this film is structured. Obviously, it is hard to break up a film that is virtually one long scene; 20 minutes in, after I saw Aaron Taylor-Johnson scream into his radio for the 5th time, it began to get a little stale. The second issue is the setup; the audience is not fully involved in the scenario: We are very quickly introduced to a group of characters and situation without any information that might make us care about what is happening on screen. Maybe a bit of exposition would have been good about the assignment our leads were heading out to, or a scene at the base setting up the character dynamic. Instead, we just get army dudes doing army things in the desert, then they get shot, and I had nothing to connect with.
The final problem sort of ties to the second and that is the characters themselves. This is not the fault of the actors: Taylor-Johnson is clearly trying as the sniper-spotter Allen Isaac, professional wrestler John Cena is charismatic as Shane Matthews, and Laith Nakli is imposing as the voice of the enemy sniper. The issue is in information and connection or lack thereof; I never fully identified with Allen Isaac because we never find out who he is. Because of this, the quite svelte 81 minute run time feels like it increases exponentially because you are watching an incredibly long scene featuring a character you do not care about.
Overall The Wall is fine, but that is what makes it bad. Follow me here for a second. You are given a film with two characters, one of them you only hear, and it is set in one location that sounds intriguing, exciting, interesting. You then start to expect a high level of filmmaking, a piece that makes you sit at the end of your seat hoping, praying that the character you have spent the whole movie with gets out of there alive. However, it is a forgettable average film that falls shorts of the expectations it built up for you. It is a disappointing film in its execution and breaks all the promises it makes in the premise. The rest of the film is similarly forgettable, from the dust filled cinematography to the score that was there but largely forgettable.
Technically StudioCanal, The Wall’s distributors, have done a great job in the construction of the disc. The audio and visual quality are solid without digital errors and the menus are easy to use. Similarly, the extras included on the disc provide nice little insights into the way the film was made. However, it feels like the extras are there to justify the film rather than the feature itself, making The Wall feel more like a writing or filmmaking experiment than a film in and of itself.
Overall this is an average release for a disappointingly average film. If you like any of the actors or are a fan of modern war movies, by all means, go for it, but if you want something that you can connect with or that you will remember, it is probably best that you skip this one and go find something else instead.