Combustible Celluloid
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With: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli
Written by: Dwain Worrell
Directed by: Doug Liman
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout and some war violence
Running Time: 81
Date: 05/12/2017

The Wall (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Wall' Skeet

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This kind of compact storytelling can be difficult to pull off, but Dwain Worrell's screenplay makes it look easy; it's a tense, tight, bracing movie, recalling many small, tough "B" movie classics.

In The Wall, two soldiers, Army Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews (John Cena) and Sergeant Allan Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) have spent the better part of 24 hours watching a scene of destruction, where contractors putting in a pipeline have been massacred.

Mathews decides that the coast is clear and goes to investigate, but is shot by an unseen sniper. Isaac rushes to his side, but is himself shot in the knee. He takes refuge behind a crumbling wall, only to find that both his radio antenna and his water bottle have also been ruined. He tries to reach help, and a voice responds; but Isaac realizes that it's the voice of the Iraqi sniper, trying to fool him.

The sniper, whom Isaac believes is the infamous Juba (voiced by Laith Nakli), tries to keep up a conversation with the American, while Isaac tries to figure a way out of his predicament. Can he locate the sniper and save himself and his partner before it's too late?

Worrell's work comes without any flashbacks or anything taking us away from the immediate action, but it still manages to reveal crucial background details in a convincing way. It also opens up the characters — including the unseen Iraqi sniper — beyond simple archetypes.

Director Doug Liman turns in surprising, no-frills work here, closer to his The Bourne Identity more than anything else in his filmography. He does revert to hand-held camerawork from time to time, but he also expertly establishes the entire space, so that nothing ever jolts us out of the action.

Liman also effectively ramps up the mood with a powerful suggestion of heat and exhaustion. Though it's a good deal bloodier and more aggressive, it deserves comparison to earlier war films by the likes of Samuel Fuller, Don Siegel, and Anthony Mann.

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