22nd Nov2017

‘The Wall’ Blu-ray Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli | Written by Dwain Worrell | Directed by Doug Liman


Review by Matthew Turner

Director Doug Liman follows up Edge of Tomorrow with this stripped down Iraqi sniper thriller that plays like an Iraq War version of Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth.

Set in 2007 – at the tail-end of the war, with Bush having declared victory – the film effectively takes place at a single location. When Army Ranger sharpshooter Sgt Shane Matthews (WWE star John Cena) and his spotter, Sgt Allen “Eyes” Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) arrive at the scene of a distress call, they discover eight bodies (including civilians and their military liaison officers) lying dead near an unfinished pipeline. After observing the area from a distance for the past 24 hours, Matthews believes it is safe and approaches the bodies, only to take a hit from an unseen sniper that leaves him severely wounded.

Isaac rushes to help, but the sniper hits him in the leg, forcing him to take cover behind a crumbling wall, where the rest of the movie takes place. Unsure whether Matthews is alive or dead, Isaac attempts to radio for help, only to find himself talking to his unseen assailant (voice actor Laith Nakli), who insists he wants to get to know Isaac before he kills him, and attempts to engage him in conversation. A tense game of cat and mouse ensues, as Isaac desperately tries to get a bead on his would-be killer’s location.

Given that he’s the only actor on screen for the majority of the 88 minute running time, the film stands or falls on the quality of Taylor-Johnson’s performance. Fortunately, the actor is more than up to the task, delivering a thoroughly compelling turn that grips from the outset. What’s interesting is that it’s an entirely unshowy performance – there’s no gung ho, Hollywood fantasy heroism here, just an average and entirely relatable Everyman, desperately trying to survive.

Similarly, Nakli is terrific as the unseen foe, who Isaac comes to believe is the fabled, real-life Iraqi sharpshooter Juba. His taunts are genuinely chilling, especially when he reels off a list of all the shots he fired, and Isaac realises that what he had taken for misses were actually carefully planned hits.

The script – by first-time writer Dwain Worrell – maintains a high level of tension throughout, even if the dialogue occasionally dips into pretentious territory (luckily, Isaac spares the audience by pulling out his earphones when his assailant starts quoting poetry). That said, it’s a shame that the film doesn’t at least flirt with the idea that this is all taking place in Isaac’s head, something that’s at least plausible, given a) the fact that we never see the sniper’s face, and b) the emerging theme of guilt, as the sniper, somewhat unconvincingly, digs into Isaac’s haunted past, like a psychotic shrink.

Liman clearly relishes the challenge of the stripped down, single-location set-up, and he finds a number of ways to both ratchet up the tension and deliver a series of satisfying twists and turns. There’s also the tiniest hint of a subversive note, which gives the film an extra edge, to the point where it could almost be read as a horror movie.

**** 4/5

The Wall is out now on DVD and Blu-ray from Studiocanal.


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