Monday, May 15, 2017

The Wall

Because one or two crazy-long baseball games have been played in the first month or so of the 2017 season, there have been more than a few columns written on sports pages about how to prevent baseball games from potentially going on forever, from starting extra innings with runners on, allowing ties after twelve innings, etc. It's not a matter that most of the readers care about - most fans like extra innings, yelling "bonus baseball!" when there's a tie after nine and, if the game makes it to about the 13th or 14th and said fan hasn't tapped out for one reason or another, eagerly anticipating what sort of weirdness is on tap as managers have to deal with a severely depleted bench. But the writers who are still on deadline and have often had to delete their half-written game stories, these things are horror shows.

As movies have started to stretch longer over the past few years, you start to hear a lot of the same things from critics, about how there's no reason for every movie, whether prestige project or superhero flick, to be something like 137 minutes or more. I've certainly done it a little, praising the 75-minute horror movie. I wonder how much of that comes from the same sort of professional irritation, especially considering how many studios are now skipping press screenings (or stacking them on the same day), leaving the critic to watch the Thursday night previews, which have the same 20-minute preview blocks as regular runs, and then stay up as late as their sportswriter colleagues to have something online by morning.

I wonder if that will cause some to be a little kinder to The Wall while the folks in large markets who are paying $15 for a ticket feel they're getting less for their money. I kind of doubt it - I think critics are more likely to complain on Twitter than hold a film's length for or against it unless there's some concrete point where it helps or hurts. This doesn't seem to be getting a lot of great press, but then, it's not close enough to the "recommend" line that its length will noticeably move the needle.

Still, it affected me going to see it a bit. I bailed on a screening that I arrived five minutes late for the previous afternoon because that's a not-inconsequential chunk of the 65-minute silent The Adventures of Prince Achmed; arriving five minutes late for this one, I was kind of glad AMC did have that 20-minute buffer at the start, but I certainly wasn't going to hang around any length of time for the next. On the other hand, I couldn't help but notice it was an Amazon Studios production, and I once again wondered if the streaming services favor short movies, as they seem more manageable when you're sitting in front of your TV (go out for the evening, and 137 minutes is no big deal, as you've earmarked the whole night for this entertainment, but at home, you might be thinking about how many episodes of Fargo you can watch afterward).

So maybe this will have a better life on Prime than theaters. It fits Amazon's model well, even though I did like seeing it on the big screen.

The Wall

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 May 2017 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run, DCP)

Usually, Roger Ebert's line about long and short movies is used in praise of lengthy yet electrifying films; I suspect it will get some use in the other direction here, because while The Wall is a mere 81 minutes long, it still drags on occasion, particularly during a center section that never quite manages to be the game of carry and mouse it strives for. At least being compact means that the good parts don't get completely drowned out.

The action takes place in 2007, with the Iraq war winding down, but not completely over: At a pipeline construction site, six people lie dead, all from headshots, and an American sniper team is staking the area out to see if the killer is still there. After eighteen hours, shooter Matthews (John Cena) decides that the he is gone, though spotter Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) thinks otherwise. Isaac, of course, is right, but their target is canny enough not to show his hand until the Americans have moved to open ground with just the remains of a stone wall as potential cover, and he's a sadist to boot.

Director Doug Liman has had his ups and downs as a filmmaker, and because of that he does not always get credit for how strong the action in his movies has been. Like the rest of the film, it's pared down to the bare essentials here, a wide-open field with minimal cover, shots wide enough to give an idea of the challenge of hitting distant targets, even as movements of inches in close-up can be crucial. Isaac and Matthews are limited by injuries from very early on, and neither Liman nor writer Dwain Worrell cheats with that; they use it to increase the stakes without having to rely on a score or a lot of verbal explanation (the general use of sound, on the other hand, is terrific). There are only two major action scenes, but those two sequences are excellent, with Liman making every one of the mere handful of shots fired count.

Full review on EFC.

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