By Shelby Fielding (Lubbock, Texas)
While thinking about the men involved in the heinous events, I arrive upon Capt. John Miller’s quote from Spielberg’s intensely vivid war film known as Saving Private Ryan in which Tom Hanks states, “I just know that every man I kill the farther away from home I feel.” That quote couldn’t be more identifiable with Doug Liman’s The Wall any more than bullets are identified with fear. Particularly in this film’s narrative, in which two American Soldiers are attacked by an unidentifiable sniper who begins to not only battle with them physically but psychologically as well. The only thing providing a barrier from these two oppositions starting an intense firefight is the unstable protection provided by the reminiscences of a wall. With profound tension combined with the great direction, The Wall carves its niche in the overcrowded genre of mockumentary war films that take the realism of the Iraq war and combine it with the cinematic allure of the war/drama genre.
Opening with a fixed matte shot with edge blurring surrounding the self-perspective of looking through the scope of a rifle. Doug Liman begins to create an almost picturesque view of the vulgarity that is organically produced in these horrific events that occur in war. Instead of the film focusing on the graphic violence that takes place in war, we instead focus on the intensive effect that these events can have on the mind. Beginning a psychological battle between this recognizable hero, who is a visual reproduction of the war heroes we see in filmmaking today, and this unknown assailant who likes a child, begins toying with his food. This interesting perspective on the genre transitions the predictable expectations that come with this film and flips them upside down. This reinvention of the screenplay is well done, and credit to Dwain Worrell for this clever take on the genre. We go to short dialogue based on the event that these two men are investigating, with small glimpses of who these men are behind their armor with references towards their personal lives and past failures as brothers in arms.
This mild intrusion upon their lives, allows the audience to gain investment in their journeys and personalities. To paint them as significant and relatable to us as audience members, in which most of us have never experienced the tragedies of battle. With the inclusion of excellent performances to support these creative perspectives on war, it provides a sense of credibility to this film. Aaron-Taylor Johnson, who portrays Isaac, offers a dynamic and subtle performance, with him transitioning between a citizen’s panicked reaction to a soldier’s focused perspective on these abrasive events. He becomes a character that is recognizable to the audience, with his remarkably written characterizations and favorable performance to not only transition himself from its past artsy performances but to also transition himself into the main light as a young talented rising star.
John Cena, who portrays Matthews, goes from his comical performances to a stern and focused performance that serves as a mentor at times to our hero, who reinvents himself as an actor by returning to this militaristic focused performance. On this occasion, though he chooses to stay in the realm of realism with not only his vulgar dialogue but also his depiction of the seriousness that take place as a soldier. He does very well, and also chooses to stay in his bubble without overreaching for things that he as an actor is not able to illustrate as well as others just yet. The filmmaking itself doesn’t stray away either, with an intentional focus placed upon Isaac’s reactions to the trapped event he has been put in. With medium shots with a median shot length of four to five minutes of a focused glimpse on not only Isaac’s facial expressions and reactions but also his body movements that reflect his dismay and self-control as well.
Doug Liman also chooses never to reveal the physical appearance of the antagonist, and this invokes a viable sense of tension. With the same adaptation of an antagonist as Spielberg did with his instant classic known as “Jaws,” refusing to display the villain allowing our imagination to overtake any possible simplistic visualization of him. That provides an addition of tension and suspense that can cause very gunshot fired from this adversary to hit harder than normal with each loud crash jumping off the screen with fearful anticipation.
The flaws of the film develop in its second act with a drop-off of tension being replaced with a focus on character depth of our hero and his opposition, while the development is intriguing it causes a disappearance in suspense created by the first act of the film and reinjected in the third act of the movie. The marketing of the film may mislead patrons as well, with a display of sharp action being the focus of the movie as it has been in past war films such as Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” and Michael Bay’s “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” This prolific perspective on the war genre with a superb view of the men behind these weapons and behind this desert-style camouflage uniform.
Doug Liman has been inventive with his action genre pieces, beginning with Bourne Identity and its imaginative narrative to his recent successes of Edge of Tomorrow. The Wall is another addition to his successful attempts at portraying credible action built with intensive tension built upon well-constructed characters. I continue to marvel at his achievements in the filmmaking genre of action and continue to anticipate his future creations. Showcasing not only what a director should do when being chosen to helm a film, but also how a director can be respectful to these brave heroes while being creative as well.
Matthews: See that. Hit and run. Whoever he is, he’s gone.
Isaac: Unless he’s a pro.
Matthews: We got no movement, not a sign of a shadow. I’m going down there, that’s it.
Isaac: Roger that.
Matthews: You got eyes on that wall?
Isaac: I got eyes on your ass, fancy pants. Come on, man. Talk to me, talk to me. What do you see?
Matthews: Something’s not right.
[suddenly he gets shot]
Matthews: I’m hit!
Isaac: I’m coming, man.
[the sniper starts shooting and hits the other soldier in the leg]