Directed by Doug Liman
As with last week’s film openings, my favorite film of this week is the smallest and least promoted. “The Wall” is also interesting in the way that it shrugs off assorted conventions, ending up feeling less like an American film than, perhaps, something European. It was also the first spec script bought by Amazon Studios.
It’s a simple story of two American soldiers, making up a sniper team, protecting contractors in the wake of the Iraq War. They’ve been sent to investigate multiple shootings at a section of oil pipeline and find themselves under fire from an Iraqi sniper. With an unseen enemy and virtually no other cast members, except corpses and voices over the radio, it could also make an intimate and minimalistic stage play – and has a little of that feel.
John Cena plays the senior team member, and brings that bulky, no nonsense military vibe, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson playing his spotter. Taylor-Johnson is pretty remarkable here, carrying the film, and he has become one of those few actors who can play multiple accents seemingly without giving away his own origins (he’s English).
The post-war timing is significant, as it makes the Iraqi a villain in the sense that he’s carrying on a personal, unsanctioned war after the cessation of formal hostilities. Without that aspect of the story, it would be less morally clear, with two American soldiers simply up against a more proficient opponent – something that is unusual in American war films.
It’s also worth noting that this is directed by Doug Liman, who has a strong track record with such varied fare as “Swingers,” “The Bourne Identity,” “Jumper,” and “Edge of Tomorrow.” And while there’s far less going on here, in terms of plot elements and characters, he’s a solid storyteller and manages to make a wide open stretch of desert seem claustrophobic and intense. Ultimately, it’s a fascinating consideration of hunter, prey and the bait they use to fulfill their mission.
“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” lost me the moment I saw giant elephants knocking down bridges and buildings which, sadly, came in almost the first scene. And these were not simply elephants of above average stature, but truly giant elephants in battle armor. This is King Arthur as though set in Middle Earth rather than medieval England, with mages like some Saruman/Voldemort hybrid (with almost no trace of Merlin), and magic that seems far more profound, powerful and destructive than the Arthurian legends and stories of my childhood. And it’s odd to see London described as Londinium, when that Romanesque name doesn’t seem appropriate in whatever timeline this is intended to be. There are moments when this version of the story of the young King who pulled Excalibur from the stone has the fast dialog delivery and vibe of director Guy Ritchie’s early work in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” or “Snatch.” But those moments are brief and too far apart, stuck in the mire of vast spectacle and the trashing of countless childhoods.
Those brief, all too separate moments of entertainment are also characteristic of “Snatched,” this week’s other major release, starring Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer as a mother and daughter kidnapped while on vacation in South America. Schumer plays a woman who’s dumped by her musician boyfriend just before the trip and, by virtue of her annoying and unsympathetic nature, stuck with nobody but her homebody mother for company. The outcome is a film that has several genuine laugh out loud moments, albeit largely based on crass jokes about bodily fluids and Schumer’s character’s propensity for killing their captors, but too many longer stretches that aren’t that funny. It’s probably a film that’s better appreciated in highlight form, fast forwarded on Netflix, or simply as a trailer. That said, it was a treat to see Goldie Hawn back on the big screen after a 15 year absence and that alone might be enough to recommend it.