James Cole Clay // Film Critic
It’s been a number of years since films like PHONE BOOTH, BURIED and FROZEN (not the Disney title) hit theaters. These bottled films are cheap to make and are entertaining enough to watch, mounting tension with every plot device making the circumstances even more dire. Actually, the best one of these films is last Summer’s sleeper hit THE SHALLOWS, which was basically Blake Lively vs. shark. But none of these one-location thrillers stuck the landing; you could say they received a silver star at best.
So that’s why director Doug Liman’s follow-up to the amazing EDGE OF TOMORROW seemed so promising. THE WALL is simple. It takes place when two marines (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena) are pinned down behind a crumbling wall by an Iraqi sniper, just as the war is coming to a close.
Liman has been a director that hasn’t ever repeated himself. I mean, this guy directed SWINGERS and THE BOURNE IDENTITY. The guy has talent, but boy, is this thriller a slog through the sand. At only 82 minutes, Liman can’t find anything fascinating for his characters to do except writhe in the misery of being in the desert with a gunshot wound and cottonmouth.
Taylor-Johnson receives his own backstory and waxes on about his troubles as a less-than stellar marine, but all that nonsense is superfluous as to why we actually came to see this film. Plus, his a slack-jawed Southern draw doesn’t do him any favors in terms of being an authentic character.
There are micro-budgeted studio films like SPLIT and GET OUT that came out this year that felt rich with texture and production value. But with THE WALL, a film that doesn’t require much aesthetic doctoring, felt like watching a group of kiddos playing in a sandbox. But at least we get a few minutes of the oversized Cena lumbering around in his army tactical gear. Cena is decent in the movie, but its impossible to ignore the comedic sight of a hulking man waddling through the barren landscape of the desert.
THE WALL has its moments of visual tension and harrowing danger; unfortunately, the inauthentic tone of the film puts up a metaphorical wall that disengages from our hero. There are no stakes and you don’t care much about who lives or dies. Props to Liman and crew for trying something new with their filmmaking repertoire, but this is an experiment that crumbles.