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The Wall review - action undercut by too much talk | reviews, news & interviews

The Wall review - action undercut by too much talk

The Wall review - action undercut by too much talk

'Bourne' director Doug Liman does his best with screenwriting newcomer

Kill or be killed: Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Sgt Allen Isaac

Movies which essentially consist of a central character trapped in a difficult predicament can be great (Tom Hardy in Locke), or more likely not so great (Colin Farrell in Phone Booth or Ryan Reynolds in Buried). In any event it’s not a challenge to be undertaken lightly, since the viewer is always wondering what brilliant or absurd trick is coming next to keep boredom at bay and the show on the road.

In The Wall, director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow) has teamed up with debut screenwriter Dwain Worrell to create a 90-minute thriller about snipers divided by the eponymous rickety structure, which is part of a bombed building in the Iraqi desert in 2007. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays US Army sergeant Allen Isaac, whose role is to act as spotter for trigger-man Staff Sgt Shane Matthews (John Cena, pictured below) as they keep watch for hostile activity at the site of the killing of a group of building contractors. However, when Matthews is lured off his guard and badly wounded, Isaac moves centre stage as he finds himself pinned down by an unseen Iraqi sniper (loosely based on a real-life character called Juba, who was responsible for killing a huge number of Americans).

The WallIsaac’s efforts to help his stricken buddy, call for help, work out where the enemy is hiding and then try to do something about it create bouts of tension and anxiety, but ultimately there’s not enough juice in the script for Liman to make this something special. Still, he makes a strong start. The opening scene of Isaac and Matthews maintaining a motionless 20-hour vigil on a sun-broiled hillside, hidden behind rocks and scraps of foliage, creates an uneasy undertow of apprehension as they gaze down at the crumpled corpses below. Liman lets the sense of simmering, unseen threat build as long as he dares, the two soldiers debating between themselves the nature of the enemy they’re looking for, until Matthews’s decision to break cover and have a snoop around kicks the story into motion.

It’s gripping enough up to the point where contact is made, the Americans suddenly find themselves two-nil down, and a panicky Isaac is hunkered behind the wall, which is a precarious assembly of loose stones apt to collapse under the impact of a bullet. The antenna of his radio has been shot off, so he can’t call for rescue. Matthews daren’t move for fear of provoking more gunfire. What are our guys to do?

As it turns out, there’s not a lot they can do, but Worrell’s bright idea is to have the Iraqi shooter talking to Isaac over his personal radio receiver. The notion that the enemy would ring up for a chat in the middle of a bitter stand-off, saying that he wants to get to know his opponent better, doesn’t stand up to much rational scrutiny, unless you consider it a sophisticated exercise in psychological warfare.The WallWorrell’s main objective seems to be to deliver a polemic about America’s imperialist warmongering and how it gets its come-uppance when its soldiers die in the desert, and he doesn’t do it too subtly. He contrasts the uneducated poor Southern boy Isaac (you’d never guess Taylor-Johnson was from High Wycombe, listening to his barely comprehensible good-ol’-boy mumbling here) with his much more skilful and cultured opponent. He’s a former schoolteacher who quotes Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Frost at tedious length, talks English fluently enough to give convincing impersonations of American officers, and is apparently on a vengeance mission fuelled by the bombing of the school where he taught. It's as if poor Sgt Isaac has had the misfortune to run into an Iraqi Hannibal Lecter.

Perhaps the fact that the wall between hunter and prey can be broken down so easily is supposed to be an instructive metaphor, but it’s not one borne out by the movie’s final act. There was the germ of a good idea here, but The Wall falls down when it tries to bridge the yawning gap between tense action and philosophical grandstanding.

The enemy rings up for a chat in the middle of a bitter stand-off

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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