With all the big tent-pole films hitting our cinemas recently, it’s not surprising that Joe Moviegoer’s attention to smaller, low budget fare has been seriously diverted. Seeing their market share and bottom line shrink, Hong Kong’s distributors of these smaller films are now just releasing their films with as little fanfare (and marketing budget) as possible and hoping for the best. It’s really a shame as there are some good indie films out there that, if they are coming here, are going unnoticed. More often the case in Hong Kong though, they don’t even come. Instead, we get mildly entertaining throw-away films that are often available on video-on-demand before they come to our cinemas.
One such film, which snuck into Hong Kong last week and is already available both on Amazon Prime and DVD, may appeal to those who are bored with the big budget movies or who may just want to check out something different. THE WALL stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Quicksilver in the AVENGERS series) as Sgt. Allen Isaac, an American soldier who is fighting in Iraq in late 2007 when, we’re told rather tongue-in-cheek at the film’s outset, “the war is dying down”. Isaac is the “eyes” (i.e., he’s the spotter) for fellow soldier, Staff-Sgt. Matthews (John Cena, TRAINWRECK; FERDINAND), who is a sniper. As the film opens, we find the two men, camouflaged, conducting overwatch on an oil pipeline installation that had recently been overrun by al-Qaeda fighters. All the Iraqis who were working there are dead, and Isaac and Matthews are there to ensure that the insurgents have left the scene. (Yes, you can argue that having just two men to secure such a supposedly strategic installation is a bit far-fetched but just go with it.) After baking in the hot Iraqi sun for nearly 24 hours, Matthews is sure they’re alone and he makes the decision to go check out the area up close. He’s wrong and the men come under fire from a sniper who is hiding nearby. Isaac gets shot too, but he makes it to relative safety behind a stone wall. Unfortunately for him, he’s bleeding, he’s low on water and the antenna on his radio is broken. He can, however, talk with the sniper, a legendary man named Juba, who is able to tap into his communications channel. Juba is not about to let Isaac get out alive but rather than killing him right away (in which case we’d have a very short movie), he takes his time with the soldier, trying getting into his head to torture him psychologically.
Hmm… If this story sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s basically an Iraq War twist on the 2003 film, PHONE BOOTH, which starred Colin Farrell. Penned by first-time screenwriter Dwain Worrell, who apparently wrote the script while he was teaching English in China, THE WALL is not a bad film though. Taylor-Johnson throws himself into the role well, complete with a southern US accent to mask his own British accent. Cena, who is the bigger star here, is rather wasted and I’m surprised he agreed to take on the role. Maybe he wanted to build a swimming pool at his home and needed the cash. The story, though, if not entirely original does manage to stay coherent throughout and the film’s epilogue is surprisingly good, although if you’ve seen PHONE BOOTH, you may just figure out how it’s going to end.
THE WALL is directed by Doug Liman (AMERICAN MADE; EDGE OF TOMORROW; THE BOURNE IDENTITY). This isn’t his best work by far but it’s reasonably entertaining for what it is. In the hands of a less experienced director, it may have ended up a heaping mess. Liman has been in the news this week because it was just announced that he is in talks with Warner Bros. to direct a remake of THE CANNONBALL RUN, the 1981 film that starred Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Dom DeLuise, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Jackie Chan and many more big stars of the day. No cast for the new film has been announced.
If you’re looking for something different to watch at the cinema this week, check it out. Certainly, if you go in with low expectations, you won’t be disappointed. Otherwise, catch it on Amazon Prime or on disc.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, June 7th at 8:30 am HK time!
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