The Wall (2017)


Everything is more intense when you’re under fire.

(2017) War Drama (Roadside Attractions/Amazon) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli. Directed by Doug Liman

 

In the desert, there is not much beyond scorching sun, deep blue sky and wind-whipped sand. It is dusty, hot and dry. Humans can survive there but far from comfortably. It is a terrible place to have a war.

And yet we’ve spent the last 16 years and counting in the desert at war. In this movie, it is 2007 and the war in Iran is “winding down” as the opening credits inform us. Remembering that this is the era of the infamous “Mission Accomplished” faux pas of George W. Bush, the movie begins on a wry, humorous note. We see that there are two Marines – Shane Matthews (Cena), a sniper and “Eyes” Isaac (Taylor-Johnson), his spotter – observing a pipeline construction site. Their banter is the kind between brothers or bar buddies; occasionally vulgar, snarky for certain but affectionate nonetheless.

All the men working on the pipeline are dead. The spotter thinks they are all head shots; the sniper is not so sure. If the former is right, then there is a highly skilled sniper in the neighborhood. If the latter is correct, then it was likely an insurgent patrol that surprised the construction workers and is likely long gone. The two men have been sitting in the hot son in full camouflage for 22 hours. Matthews has about had enough. There has been no movement. Nobody is there.

He heads down to the construction site to make sure and to request that the two be picked up and returned to base. There is a crack-thump and down goes the Marine. His buddy runs out to help him and crack-thump he’s hit as well. Isaac is forced to take shelter behind a crumbling wall, one which is barely standing on its own and threatens to come down on top of him if the wind gets too high.

He is forced to take the bullet out of his own leg in a squirm-inducing moment and then needs to look to the survival of himself and his buddy who appears to be unconscious or dead. The outlook is grim; the radio antenna has been damaged so all he can pick up are people who are close by; his canteen has also been shot and the water drained out. The dehydration combined with his serious wound is likely to kill him before base camp comes looking for them.

At first things take a turn for the better; Isaac gets in contact with a patrol team who must be close by but when they keep asking for his exact position, he begins to get suspicious, suspicions which are confirmed when the man on the radio tells him that he is the sniper who has shot him. The two strike up a conversation; it turns out that the sniper is the legendary Juba, who has 75 confirmed American kills to his credit. He seems eager to get to know Isaac who wants nothing more than to figure out where Juba is so that he can shoot him.

It becomes a game of cat and mouse with Juba threatening to shoot off the face of Matthews if Isaac doesn’t answer the questions that Juba poses, the most important being “Why are you still here?” That’s a question Americans have been asking as well.

Liman has constructed a taut three-person movie that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seats from minute one. It’s a short but sweet movie that doesn’t overstay its welcome and although there is a bit of a lull in the middle, mostly keeps the tension at a high level throughout. The movie is shot so well you can almost feel the sand getting in your eyes.

There is an authentic feel to the film from a military standpoint. I’m not ex-military myself but the characters act as I would think well-trained Marines would; they are imperfect and have their moments when they let their guard down but nonetheless they (particularly Taylor-Johnson) act with a sense that the training has kicked in as the situation is assessed, immediate needs seen to and a plan to get out of a bad situation put together. We see all of this from the comfort of our theater seats (or our living room sofa as the case may be) and likely feel quite grateful that it is not us cringing beneath that poorly constructed wall.

Cena spends most of the movie lying face down in the dirt but this is maybe his best performance of his fairly brief acting career. The WWE superstar has always impressed me with his screen presence but over time he has developed some real acting skills. I’m not sure he’s at the level of a Dwayne Johnson yet but as wrestlers turned thespians go, he certainly has the tools to construct a pretty satisfying career and maybe more down the line.

Taylor-Johnson has been in my opinion on the fringe of breaking it big with some fairly good performances in fairly good movies, but nothing has really brought him to the A-list quite yet. Much of the film rests on his shoulders as he is interacting with a voice on his radio more than with a live actor as Cena is mostly unconscious in the film. That takes a lot of chops and fortunately Taylor-Johnson has them. We shall see if this finally puts him over the top and gets him that role that will elevate him into the next level.

This is a movie in which sound plays an unusually important part and Liman’s sound team comes through in spades. From the sound of the wind whipping the sand around, the crack-thump of the gunshots and the metallic bangs of the construction site, the sounds make the movie. We really don’t have a lot to look at other than endless vistas of sand and the half-finished construction site. We need the additional stimulation and we get it.

Amazon Studios helped to produce this, likely with a goal of getting their Prime users to watch this at home, but this is one of those rare movies that I think despite having an intimate setting should be seen in a theater where the outstanding sound work and impressive visuals will work best. This hasn’t gotten a ton of buzz amongst indie film fans but it deserves some. This is a very strong movie that is worth seeking out and at least here in Orlando is playing in enough theaters that there’s no excuse not to find it.

REASONS TO GO: The expected route is not taken. Taylor-Johnson and Cena; who knew? There is a lot of authenticity to this film.
REASONS TO STAY: The middle third is a little bit slow. Juba as a disembodied voice lacks menace.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of salty language and a fair amount of war violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nicholas Irving, the Army Rangers sniper who served as technical adviser for the film, was nicknamed “The Reaper” during his tour of duty.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/12/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 65% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Phone Booth
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Last Shaman

New Releases for the Week of May 12, 2017


KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD

(Warner Brothers) Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen, Freddie Fox, Astrid Bergés-Frisbey, Annabelle Wallis. Directed by Guy Ritchie

A new take on the Arthurian legend from iconoclastic director Guy Ritchie. When Arthur’s father, the King, is murdered his power-mad brother seizes the throne. Arthur is forced to flee and live a life in the alleys and streets of the capital, but all that changes when he pulls a sword from the stone. Now he must face his history and seize his legacy. The trouble is that Arthur isn’t all that eager to do either.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Fantasy Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language)

A Quiet Passion

(Music Box) Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Keith Carradine, Duncan Duff. Emily Dickinson is one of the most beloved and acclaimed poets in American history, but few know all that much about the reclusive woman who passed away in 1886. What was she like? What prompted her to write such beautiful poetry? Why did she never marry? Legendary director Terence Davies takes on the story of one of the most revered figures in American literature.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, disturbing images and brief suggestive material)

Absolutely Anything

(Atlas) Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Robin Williams (voice), Monty Python. A group of eccentric aliens bestow an ordinary man with virtually unlimited power – the ability to make anything he wishes come true. As he struggles to control his power, observed from space by the aliens, he starts to rely more and more heavily on his loyal dog. Now, however, with a beautiful woman literally in the palm of his hands, he finds himself forced to choose between the girl and the dog. The movie is notable as for being the last film in which the late Robin Williams appears (he is the voice of the dog) and as a reunion for the surviving members of Monty Python, whose Terry Jones directed the film.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy
Now Playing: Premiere Fashion Square

Rating: R (for language including sexual references, and brief nudity)

Lowriders

(BH Tilt/Telemundo) Gabriel Chavarria, Demian Bichir, Eva Longoria, Melissa Benoist. East L.A. is a world unto its own. Danny is a talented street artist who has his own goals and dreams; his father and brother are part of the car culture of East LA, fabled Lowriders who have built a street rep over the years. Danny gets caught between their world and his own and must choose between family and future.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for language, some violence, sensuality, thematic elements and brief drug use)

Snatched

(20th Century Fox) Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack. A young woman is getting ready to go on the vacation of a lifetime when her boyfriend abruptly dumps her just before they are due to leave. With her options limited and not wanting to give up her vacation, she reluctantly invites her uptight mom with her. When they are kidnapped, the two polar opposites realize they must work out their differences and lean on each other if they are to escape from their captors.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for crude sexual content, brief nudity, and language throughout)

The Wall

(Roadside Attractions/Amazon) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli. Two Marines are investigating a construction crew’s ambush by a sniper. Convinced that the sniper has left the area, they prepare to be evacuated from the area when the sniper, who has patiently out-waited them, opens fire, wounding both of them and pinning one behind a crumbling wall. It becomes a game of cat and mouse as the sniper talks to them over their radios and with food and water running out and no way to communicate with their base to get help, forces the Americans into a desperate act. Doug Liman, who directed The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow, is the man behind the camera here.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: War Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language throughout and some war violence)

Pick of the Litter – May 2017


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

(Disney/Marvel) Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell. The misfits who saved the Galaxy are on yet another quest to save it again. They’ll be picking up some new members in Moondragon as well as old foes Nebula and Yondu. This time they’ll be setting up the next Avengers film as they meet up with Star Lord’s dad – Ego, the Living Planet – and try to foil the ambitions of Thanos who seeks the Infinity Gems for a gantlet that will allow him to rule the Galaxy. May 5

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Last Men in Aleppo

(Grasshopper) Khalid, Subhi, Mahmoud. Three men who founded the White Helmets of Aleppo live day to day in a city under siege. An organization created to save lives and bring hope to a city where there is little of that, the men fight their own worst fears and heartaches to give meaning to their struggle and create examples for their children. This won Best Documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. May 3

Mr. Chibbs

(Abramorama) Kenny Anderson, Deidre “Spindarella” Roper, Bobby Hurley, Nate Archibald. Ten years after retiring from a stellar pro basketball career, Anderson has made life a party of drugs, alcohol and sex. Still reeling from the death of his mother, he loses a cherished coaching position and finds that in order to move forward he’s going to have to face his own demons for the first time in his life. May 3

Like Crazy

(Strand) Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Micaela Ramazzotti, Valentina Carnelutti, Sergio Albelli. Donatella and Beatrice both reside in a psychiatric facility in Tuscany for mentally disturbed women. They are both there for entirely different reasons but still they become fast friends. During an educational outing, they are presented an opportunity to escape custody and they take it, beginning an adventure that will take them on a road trip that will disclose their past and realize the beauty in imperfection which could potentially change their lives forever. May 5

Manifesto

(FilmRise) Cate Blanchett, Cate Blanchett, Cate Blanchett, Cate Blanchett. A manifesto is a declaration of intent to change the status quo. The Oscar-winning actress takes on a variety of roles; in each she reads a manifesto against a striking background; some modern, some psychedelic, some futuristic. This is not just art, it’s Art. It also played as a Spotlight Selection at this year’s Florida Film Festival. May 10

The Wall

(Roadside Attractions/Amazon) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli, Spencer Thomas. A sniper pins two American soldiers with a crumbling wall between them. As they soon discover, it’s not just war…to the sniper, it is a deadly game. Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow) has concocted an edge of the seat thriller in a wartime setting. May 12

Wakefield

(IFC) Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Garson, Jason O’Mara, Beverly D’Angelo. Howard Wakefield was a responsible husband, loving father and successful lawyer living in a beautiful house in the suburbs. He’s everything he’s supposed to be – until he suffers a nervous breakdown and decides to see what would happen to his family if he removed himself from their lives. He lives in his attic, observing his family and as the days stretch out into months it becomes harder and harder for him to return to the life he once knew, even though he may want to.  May 19

The Commune

(Magnolia) Trine Dyrhholm, Fares Fares, Ulrich Thomsen, Julie Agnete Vang. In the 1970s a group of Danish young people gather in a commune to explore free love and communal living. At first, it’s a gas and the vibe is perfect but as time goes on they begin to clash and the solidarity that existed between them evaporates. This is a new film from Thomas Vinterberg who helmed The Hunt (one of my all-time favorite Florida Film Festival entries) and like that film played at the Florida Film Festival only this year other than a few years back. May 19

Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan

(Abramorama) Wendy Whelan, Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Bryan Brooks. Wendy Whelan is one of the most celebrated ballerinas in the history of American ballet. No single artist has had more ballets written specifically for them than her. However at age 47, she must fight an entirely new battle – against the perceptions of her age and her own injured body. May 24

Long Strange Trip

(Amazon Studios) Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann. Although there have been many concert films of the Grateful Dead, there really hasn’t been a comprehensive documentary about the band – until now. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, the film will get a brief theatrical run before debuting on the Amazon Prime service on June 2. May 26