Bro bantz and brutish ac­tion

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

THE WALL Di­rected by Doug Li­man Star­ring Aaron Tay­lor-John­son, John Cena, Laith Nakli Cert 15A, lim­ited re­lease, 88mins

No Aris­totelian unity is left be­hind in this taut, par­si­mo­nious, one-set war thriller, a Gulf War pic­ture that, lumped to­gether with Buried, makes for a pleas­ing, lim­ited edi­tion black-box sub­genre.

In the days af­ter Op­er­a­tion En­dur­ing Free­dom, a US army staff sergeant (John Cena) and a sniper (Aaron Tay­lor-John­son) are left on over­watch in a re­mote cor­ner of Iraq. Their seem­ingly deathly-dull mis­sion, re­lieved only by bro bantz (“I’m hot as shit: my balls have melted into one f**king ball”), quickly goes awry when an un­seen enemy shooter opens fire, leav­ing the sol­diers with a man down, lim­ited wa­ter sup­plies, and no way to ra­dio back to base.

The un­for­tu­nate US marks­man takes refuge be­hind the ru­ined tit­u­lar struc­ture, as the cool, col­lected voice of Juba (the voice of Laith Nakli), the Iraqi sniper, comes over the ra­dio. A bat­tle of wits – and oc­ca­sion­ally gun­fire – com­mences, as Juba probes, taunts, and quotes the po­ems of Robert Frost. Face­less foes are sel­dom so men­ac­ing or so learned.

The Wall be­gan as a spec script by new­comer Dwain Wor­rell (the screen­writer be­hind Net­flix’s much-ma­ligned Iron Fist) and fea­tured on the 2014 Black List of most highly rated un-pro­duced screen­plays.

Work­ing on his low­est bud­get since his 1996 break­through, Swingers, di­rec­tor Doug Li­man ( The Bourne Iden­tity, Mr & Mrs Smith, Edge of To­mor­row) mines this fu­ri­ous stand-off for sandy sur­vival­ist make-and-do and white-knuckle sur­prises. The di­a­logue (“We’re not so dif­fer­ent, you and I”) can sound a lit­tle ripe, but the ac­tion is ap­pro­pri­ately brutish and im­pec­ca­bly timed.

Cin­e­matog­ra­pher Ro­man Vasyanov re­works the rough and ready aes­thetic he brought to End of Watch with great suc­cess. Tay­lor-John­son ef­fort­lessly tran­si­tions from ca­sual locker-room ex­changes to ex­as­per­a­tion and, fi­nally, des­per­a­tion. And the blackly comic de­noue­ment is pure dev­il­ment.

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