Doug Liman’s ‘The Wall’ is a thriller that is both unique and unpredictable

It’s 2007 and the war in Iraq is coming to an end, but Issac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Matthews (John Cena) have a few jobs left to do, including surveying a site littered with dead bodies. When they come upon an expert sniper known to U.S. troops as Juba (voiced by Laith Nakli), a deadly game of psychological warfare is engaged between Issac and Juba.

Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow, Bourne Identity) knows how to stage an action sequence, but here he dials up the tension over a crisp running time of 81 minutes. Those minutes are packed with loads of suspense as Johnson’s Issac is stuck behind a crumbling wall with Juba’s scope bearing down on him. Liman takes basic ingredients, adds a few pinches of spice, and creates a thriller that is unique and unpredictable.

Who will break first? Issac or Juba? Can the American soldier, who is wounded, survive long enough without essentials like water and food? Without extending the time, Liman is able to stretch out the minutes of this duel to supreme cinematic effect while injecting realism into the battle.

This isn’t an action flick, so please be advised. This isn’t a Cena vehicle, so be advised. The pro wrestler turned part-time actor has a crucial but much smaller role than Johnson, so don’t come into the theater expecting the Boston product to turn into Chuck Norris from Delta Force. The mood of Dwain Worrell’s script is harrowing and taps into the mental game of a soldier more than the mere physical. I wouldn’t expect Issac and Juba to throw down their rifles and engage in a fist fight with rain falling and t-shirts ripping.

While he was quirky and action ready in Kickass and Avengers: Ultron, Johnson’s work here is stellar. His Oscar worthy work in last year’s Nocturnal Animals revealed a rebellious rage fueled side to his persona that hadn’t been unveiled before, and Johnson’s Issac runs the gauntlet of emotions throughout this film, which spans around 36 hours of time in one setting. For 95 percent of the film, Johnson is the face of the action, and he handles it like a pro. Without his gritty work, the movie fails big time, because you have to care about Issac in order to want him to survive.

A battle of wills and words breaks out between Issac and Juba, and you find out more and more about the characters as the film carries on, and it deepens the fleet footed story. Did Issac used to be a sniper? What happened to make him stop and why does he keep taking tours of duty in a war that is reaching its conclusion?

Nakli’s work reminded me of Ted Levine’s voice work in Joy Ride and Kiefer Sutherland in Phone Booth, a pair of films that didn’t show a face yet allowed the sinister tone of a man’s voice to produce all the villainy required for the protagonist to be pushed to the edge. Juba mostly toys with his American counterpart, and the verbal war includes views on the war without becoming overly political or religious, which I thank Worrell’s writing for.

Liman doesn’t work a lot, and chooses his projects wisely. What he is trying to create with The Wall is a film where two men from different sides of a war are forced to engage in a hands free tug of war. While there is gunplay and a crash, the bulk of this film is played with the most complex organ in our human body: the brain.

The climax and resolution of this film is bold and perfect, and you won’t see it coming even though how hard you will try.

The Wall is a film I couldn’t stop thinking about long after I left; it is simple in its setup, but complex and invigorating in its measure. It’s truly something different at the movies, and will get you going.

Pay the tab and go check it out. I’d wear some sunscreen, because it might get hot.

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