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Wall (2017), The

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // August 15, 2017
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted August 17, 2017 | E-mail the Author

Doug Liman's The Wall (2017) is surprising for several reasons. It's an incredibly stripped-down film directed by a man whose last one (2014's impressive Edge of Tomorrow) was an A-list spectacle loaded with CGI. It's an intimate but claustrophobic thriller with only three credited cast members and one location. It was shot in 14 days and produced by Amazon Studios, whose purchase of Dwain Worrell's spec script was their first. Last, but not least, it flew completely under the radar and barely made back its modest $3M budget. That's to say nothing of its rather surprising ending, which takes a sharp left turn where most films fly straight.

The Wall's setup is as simple as they come: it's told almost entirely from the perspective of Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews (WWE's John Cena, but keep reading) and Sergeant Allen "Ize" Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), two American soldiers tasked with scouting a pipeline construction site in Iraq. All eight contractors have been killed in cold blood with no enemies in sight, so Shane and Ize---a highly trained sniper and spotter, respectively---finally assume the coast is clear after a grueling 22-hour stakeout. Unfortunately, they're attacked by enemy sniper fire after going in for a closer look; both men take at least one bullet, but Shane's much worse off and stuck lying in the blazing desert sun. Ize, meanwhile, takes cover behind a half-demolished stone wall near the pipeline, piecing together clues about the mysterious sniper's location while dodging stray bullets and attempting to pull Shane to safety.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson carries The Wall during the bulk of its brisk 81-minute running time; it's literally a one-man show for well over an hour, not counting the voice of our unnamed Iraqi sniper (Laith Nakli). Taylor-Johnson is up to the challenge and lends the right amount of emotion, terror, and bravery during this extremely tense predicament: one in which the line between hero and villain is occasionally blurred, but still visible. Cena does a respectable job with the material as well; it's clearly not an example of stunt casting, even if he technically doesn't need camouflage by dafault. Dwain Worrell's tight script doesn't have a lot of fat, serving up enough dialogue to keep everything clear...but not enough to bog down The Wall with unnecessary details or obvious exposition. That said, it's loaded with so many FPMs ("fucks per minute") that the word practically loses all meaning by the end credits.

But it's those end credits---and a rather surprising turn of events that happens just a minute or two earlier---that might leave a bad taste in your mouth the first time around. It's not exactly a clear abuse of twist endings, especially within the genre, yet this change-up blurs the film's underlying message and will undoubtedly shock those expecting a more conventional closer. I'm still on the fence about it, but I'll give credit to Doug Liman and company---who re-shot the ending long after production wrapped, changing Worrell's original script in the process---for at least attempting to go off the beaten path. Lionsgate's Blu-ray gives The Wall a good amount of support on home video, pairing a strong A/V presentation with a small but appreciated collection of bonus features.

Presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of The Wall impresses with exceptional image detail, strong textures, and a color palette that replicates the film's rough and rugged anamorphic 16mm roots. This is not a vivid and lush film for obvious reasons: it's limited to one location (the Mojave Desert, standing in for Iraq) and there's almost no plant life anywhere in sight. Even the blue, cloudless sky looks more like pale water than anything else, although there are short bursts of bold color depending on the subject matter and lighting conditions. Overall, Lionsgate's Blu-ray appears to be an accurate representation of ugly subject matter, with consistent black levels and strong contrast that gives it an undeniably raw appeal right in line with most modern war films.

DISCLAIMER: The screen captures and stills on this page are decorative and do not represent the title under review.

Not to be outdone is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, which smartly dials back the showiness to amplify The Wall's barren landscapes. It stands in good contrast with the occasional short bursts of action, which feature strong channel separation and rear channel activity. Whizzing bullets and stray dust storms are mixed well with solid dynamic range, breaking up many of the film's quieter moments without feeling overcooked. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles have been included during the main feature only.

The Wall doesn't use Lionsgate's typical "moving" interface, opting for a much simpler and faster one that provides smooth navigation. This one-disc release arrives in an eco-friendly keepcase with matching slipcover; a Digital Copy slip is also tucked inside.


The main attraction here is a feature-length Audio Commentary with director Doug Liman and actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Topics of discussion include location scouting, casting and early development, training for the film (including Johnson's enrollment in sniper school), the 14-day shooting process, John Cena's time on set, dealing with the harsh climate, technical difficulties, developing and reshooting a new ending, audience reception, and more. It's relatively laid back and informative during the first 25 minutes, but later sections are riddled with dead air. In all honesty, this could have been whittled down to a more compact interview.

"Facts from the Front Lines: A Visual Journey Through The Wall" (11 minutes) offers a short but interesting visual take on the 14-day shoot; much of it is nothing more than clips from the finished film, but we also get a number of still photographs and "pop-up" style facts explaining each one. Similarly, four Behind the Scenes Vignettes ("Sand Storms", "Behind The Wall", "Military Tactics", and "Who Is Ize?", 10 minutes total) feature a handful of promotional interviews and brief summaries of the film's production.

Doug Liman's The Wall is a compelling and claustrophobic thriller that makes the most of its limited budget, though a handful of obvious roadblocks keep it from reaching greater heights. Still, the basics are covered: Aaron Taylor-Johnson turns in a great performance, the cinematography is striking, and its brisk running time leaves little room for fat. The ending is...different and will likely rub first-time viewers the wrong way, but it at least keeps The Wall from feeling too predictable during the home stretch. Lionsgate's Blu-ray package offers a small but ample amount of support for the main feature, including a top-notch A/V presentation and a few informative extras. Mildly Recommended for established fans and first-timers, although a rental might be enough for some.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes, and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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