Oh, well if it’s not a GREAT wall, then I’m not interested! Hmph! Get it? THE GREAT WALL (2017)? It was a pun… No, wait, my co-worker came up with this one. “Trump made a movie about making that damn wall of his?” Yay for jokes! Moving on!
This movie doesn’t look half bad actually. A kind of minimalist movie starring only three actors and one location. Looks like it’s about two American soldiers who spot what they think is a wounded person, try to help him, but one of the soldiers gets gunned down, injured, and the other guy begins talking to their enemy over their radio, probably preventing him from calling for help, with only a weak-ass wall protecting him. Slowly, he runs out of water, and I’m guessing the injured soldier plays dead for most of the movie, which is why the bad-guy doesn’t just shoot him dead.
Here’s the cast… all three of ’em. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (NOCTURNAL ANIMALS , AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON , KICK-ASS ), John Cena (DADDY’S HOME , 12 ROUNDS , THE MARINE , and the upcoming DADDY’S HOME 2 ), and Laith Nakli (THE VISITOR  and TV show 24: LEGACY).
Now for the crew. Directing is Doug Liman, known for EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014), MR. & MRS. SMITH (2005), THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002), and the upcoming animated film JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK (2017). Penning the script is Dwain Worrell, known for one episode of Netflix’s TV show IRON FIST. Finally, the cinematographer is Roman Vasyanov, known for SUICIDE SQUAD (2016), FURY (2014), and END OF WATCH (2012). This film has no score.
Overall, I doubt this will be anything to write home about. I’m betting it’s going to be fairly predictable, but I’m hoping that we’ll get some solid characters and a great deal of tension will elevate this movie a fair amount. The set-up’s there. All that matters now is the execution.
This is my honest opinion of: THE WALL
Set in late 2007. Staff Sergeant Matthews (John Cena), a sniper, and Sergeant Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Matthews’ lookout, are two American soldiers who are looking down on a pipeline construction site with dead bodies littered around. After twenty-two hours of waiting, Matthews decides that the site is clear of hostiles and goes for a radio to replace their broken one. But before he gets his hands on it, he is shot by a sniper, though not killed. Attempting to get to his aide, Isaac’s radio antennae is shot off, preventing any hope of calling for help and hides behind a wall that offers little protection against his adversary. Attempting one last time to call for help, Isaac manages to reach someone… but quickly discovers it’s actually an Iraqi pro-sniper named Juba (Laith Nakli), who begins taunting and toying with Isaac.
Actually, it’s not bad. Kind of impressive for how little the movie has in it, but not by any means flawless.
While this is a far-cry from his best performance, Taylor-Johnson does very well, given that he has to command the screen for ninety minutes. There’s a very visceral sequence with Isaac trying to recover Matthew, and all you hear is bullets flying by and the crackling sound from the rifle in the distance barely a second later. A bullet strikes the pack on his back and I found myself freaking out just as much as Isaac was. One strikes his knee, and I’m in pain too. I can taste the sand and dust on their mouths and the dryness in my mouth from dehydration. What this movie does undeniably well is be engaging and really makes you feel what these characters are feeling, be it emotional, mental, or physical.
You know what this film reminds me of? JOY RIDE (2001). PHONE BOOTH (2002). It has the same kind of idea. You have a single guy, or a few guys, talking to the villain of the movie, but the villain is never seen in the flesh and only heard through a communication device who is trying to kill them. Because I rather enjoyed those suspense films, I think I have a soft spot for these types of movies. Granted, I think this does the idea of never seeing the bad guy who is a constant threat a little better than the previous two. First of all, no score. I usually respect films that can do that and keep the energy up. For the most part anyway. I’ll tackle that later. It’s also pretty ominous to piece together just how good this sniper is and how eerie it is to know that he’s in almost complete control over the situation. It’s unsettling as hell and even though you can map out Isaac’s next plan at the same time that he’s thinking about it, you never truly know how it will pan out. Even if his plans are successful, does it really mean anything in the long run? It’s great suspense.
Also, I gotta hand it to this movie, I really like the ending. The rescue choppers arrive and Isaac’s trying to snipe Juba in his hiding spot in the trash pile. He thinks he’s killed him, but as Isaac’s being carried away, a soldier gets shot out, and manages to bring the helicopter down completely. I won’t lie, I didn’t quite see that coming. I mean, I didn’t think Juba was really dead, but I definitely thought that he respected Isaac enough as a soldier to let him go. But nope, he demonstrates one last time how damn good he is and manages to kill everyone. Once again, he’s in complete control of any situation that he’s in and wins in the end. It’s certainly a downer note and won’t be well-received by everyone, but I really approve of this ending.
My only real complaint is that the movie cuts to the credits unbelievably abruptly. The helicopter is shot down, cut to black, smoking chopper, Juba saying something over the radio, presumably setting up another trap, and then BAM! Credits with hard rock playing. We barely get a minute to process what the hell just happened and the movie declares itself over. It’s… distracting and I didn’t like that.
Having said all that, there are some weaknesses with the film.
For one thing, despite only being an hour and a half, this movie would have been better served as a short film. Why do I say that? Because there are serious stretches where I was zoning out. I might as well make this rant about the villain too, who is pretty one-dimensional. I know, I was going on and on about how he was always in control and how much I enjoyed that, but part of why the movie had too many boring moments is because the conversations between Isaac and Juba can get really boring. I mean, really break down what Juba keeps asking. “Why do you keep around a broken view-finder?” “Why did you become a soldier?” These are surprisingly boring conversations. You have bouts of interest when Juba reveals to Isaac that the wall he’s hiding behind throughout the film was once part of a school. On a personal level, my mind went wild with the possibilities. Maybe he was a school teacher, or principal. Maybe he was a parent who lost a child and it was the Americans who bombed the school or something. I don’t know. Something to make Juba seem more like a sympathetic character. But nope. That wall was just part of a school. This information means diddly in the grand scheme of things. Maybe that’s the greatest sin of the film: it’s potential is watered down.
Beyond that, there’s some clunky foreshadowing and poorly written moments that dangerously flirted with making these characters grade-A stupid, and that’s definitely not how you want to portray the armed forces. I don’t think it quite got there, but almost. Some predictable moments and, as previously stated, slow pacing that sucked me out of the moment.
Overall, it’s by no means a bad movie. In fact, I have a soft spot for it, due to how much it reminds me of PHONE BOOTH. The acting is solid, the action is gripping, the villain’s control over the situation makes for some incredibly effective suspense, making this movie work more than it doesn’t. Unfortunately, the movie does suffer from the villain himself being boring, a result of bland writing, all of which crop up more than a couple times throughout the movie. Is it worth seeing? Sure. I might recommend a matinee price though. I sure didn’t mind spending the money on it. Definitely worth a rental if not in theaters then. Just keep in mind that it’s not an action movie. It’s a suspense film. If you don’t mind the slower pace that comes with that, then you’ll enjoy yourself fine.
My honest rating for THE WALL: a strong 3/5