The new indie release, The Wall, by Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Limon is really the ultimate vehicle for star Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is by far the lead star in a film that only stars three people, one of whom is only a disembodied voice.
The story is taken from first time screenwriter Dwain Worrell. It was on 2014’s infamous black list, which is an annual survey of the most liked motion picture screenplays not yet produced. It involves two soldiers in Iraq, (Taylor-Johnson as Isaac, and John Cena as Matthews) who are gunned down and trapped by a sniper. Matthews is exposed to the elements and the sniper’s target, and Isaac is protected only by a crumbling wall. As time goes on, and the two soldiers wait for rescue and continue to bleed out, they discover the sniper actually has control of the com system, and they must survive with their wits.
Brit actor Taylor-Johnson shows he can once again do a southern accent, as he did in Nocturnal Animals, but beyond that, he displays his arguable acting chops, through the considerable dust, sweat, and heat. It’s been said online that Taylor-Johnson is just another Jai Courtney and there’s a hilarious article about himbos that includes Taylor-Johnson, Courtney, Taylor Kitsch, and Garrett Hedlund, all of whom have failed to reach the star status their multiple starring roles should have offered them. At least, in The Wall, Taylor-Johnson takes risks. It’s not easy to carry an 81 minute film where you speak almost all the lines while your character is potentially bleeding to death.
The trouble is in the cliched speeches on both sides. Laith Nakli, who plays Iraqi sniper Juba, has to exchange political diatribes with Isaac, and that’s where the film grinds to a halt. Juba represents the face of the Middle East, and yet he is a faceless boogeyman, never to be seen, only to be feared. That he is a former teacher is a throwaway line.
In the theatrical or cinematic world, when the cast is only comprised of a duo or trio of actors, the themes or messages are more palatable when offered outside most of the dialogue, and certainly only after the lion’s share of it has occurred. The Sunset Limited, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, is a great example of that. If conversation gets around to politics, it had better be after we really know the characters, otherwise the words are empty of meaning. In the case of The Wall, It’s an anti-war film built around a cat and mouse game played with assault rifles, in a war zone, and as such, it requires an extremely light verbal tread.
Still, Lyman manages to wring out white-knuckled suspense on par with to that created in last year’s The Eye in the Sky, with much fewer players, and only one location. The twist ending is not only brave, but thought-provoking, and highly disturbing. It’s going to leave some viewers scratching their heads, and still others unsatisfied. To my mind, it’s always better to potentially alienate your audience and take a risk.
Though overall it may be better to wait for the home viewing, for those looking for tension-filled distraction on film and in a darkened theater, The Wall is for you.