Thursday, May 11, 2017

Doug Liman's THE WALL: an endurance test but perfect stand-in for our middle-east wars

To be honest, TrustMovies was bored bigtime through much of the new film, THE WALL, written by Dwain Worrell and directed by Doug Liman. And why not? The movie is mostly about two lone U.S. soldiers amidst a passel of dead bodies (other soldiers and contractors involved in one of the USA's current middle-east idiocies) who've been killed by a quite expert sniper -- who may or may not still be pointing his rifle at our two remaining guys. We quickly learn that indeed he is, as one soldier is wounded on the ground and the other high-tails it to shelter behind that small and crumbling wall of the title. And that's mostly it -- regarding, until the grand finale, any real visual action or change.

That sniper, whom we never see but merely hear his voice (offered up with award-caliber nuance by Laith Nakli), leads that grunt behind the wall (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, below) backward, forward and every which way, as he mocks, cajoles, threatens, surprises and bedevils that poor soldier -- having already wounded, maybe killed his counterpart (John Cena), who lies stone still on the ground on the other side of that wall.

Mr. Liman, pictured left, has shown his moviemaking skills numerous times, most especially via Go and The Bourne Identity and to some extent with later efforts like Fair Game and Edge of Tomorrow. I suspect that he, even more than many movie directors, is immensely helped along by the often very good writers involved in his projects. Here, that writer is Mr. Worrell, who intentionally or not, has given us an almost perfect movie metaphor for America's ever-present and increasingly worsening involvement in the middle east.

The America we see via The Wall  -- both individually and as a country -- is stupid in the extreme, possessing little sense of history, morality or even political intelligence. And if you bridle at this description, consider how that sniper is able to control the actions of our would-be heroes, over and over again, until.... well, you'll find out.

Little wonder U.S. meddling in this oil-rich part of the globe brought about, first, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism (after our deposing of a democratically-elected leader and our placement of the corrupt and totalitarian Shaw in his place), and then, post-9/11, our further attacks on Afghanistan and then Iraq helping lead to the rise of the Taliban and now ISIS. We're being led around by the nose by the very folk we supposedly want to help/conquer. But by now, our noses must have either been anesthetized into non-feeling, or perhaps what's going on somehow feels "right" -- simply because it's been going on for so very long now.

Visually, The Wall is mostly Mr. Taylor-Johnson, and while I have appreciated his work in movies from Nowhere Boy to Kick Ass and beyond, there is not so much the actor is able to do with this role, as he ends up consistently playing second fiddle to that creamy, duplicitous voice. Mr. Cena, above, has a fun scene at film's beginning, shaking his booty, but then is reduced to something approaching corpse.

Once their soldier is stuck behind that wall, writer and filmmaker try their best to provide some variation but are consistently stymied by their situation and their lack of character, let alone any character development. Compare this film to Steven Knight's Locke, which confines a single character to the interior of a car on a long drive, during which whole worlds unfold and change in the course of some 90 minutes.

And yet: As tiresome as I found the film as it moved slowly along, I have not been able to get it out of my mind, post-viewing. Everything about it, from the soldiers' action at the beginning to the dark but absolutely unsurprising conclusion, is perfectly calibrated to indict America's behavior in the middle-east. No outside nation in history has yet been able to successfully conquer this area. So we will? Talk about hubris.

You may very well come away from The Wall admiring most the cleverness, not to mention the sheer energy, wit and provocation of the antagonist and his marvelous voice. Against which, over and over again, our poor Americans are simply no match. As continues to happen historically, as supposed "wins" become in reality losses, we are consistently outmatched by something we have not understood and evidently do not even wish to understand.

You can certainly view this film as simply a wartime thriller/confined-space movie, and as such it works predictably, if reasonably well. If you care to dig a tad deeper, however, prepare to be very depressed.

From Roadside Attractions via Amazon Studios and running a thankfully short 82 minutes, the movie opens everywhere tomorrow, Friday, May 12. Here in South Florida, you can find it in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area at the Aventura Mall 24, the Paradise 24 in Davie, the South Beach 18 in Miami Beach, the Kendall Village Stadium 16, the Sunset Place 24 in Miami; in Palm Beach County at the Cinemark Palace 20 in Boca Raton, and the City Place 20 in West Palm Beach. Elsewhere in the state or country? Click here (then click on GET TICKETS) to find the theater nearest you.

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