“The Wall”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

There is sure to be much talk and swirling accusations about “The Wall” being anti-American or anti-military, but I think this is much ado about nothing. The story of two soldiers pinned down by an Iraqi sniper doesn’t exactly portray the pair of Marines as glorified heroes, but how many human beings wouldn’t be terrified into making mistakes if they were trapped in a life-or-death situation like this?

Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Matthews (John Cena) are two Marines sent to keep an eye out for any enemy fire after a mass shooting scene in the desert. When one of the men leaves his post to investigate, the two become critically wounded by an infamous terrorist (Laith Nakli) hiding nearby. Both are trapped by a decaying wall that used to be part of a schoolhouse before the war started and soon after taking sniper fire, Isaac begins to hear a voice on his military radio. It’s the sniper, and he’s taking great delight in toying with the American soldier.

The film’s small scale is all the more intense because of the limited focus and three main characters, including a truly frightening man that we never see. Isaac is trapped behind a few feet of crumbling stones in the unforgiving Iraqi desert sun with a bleeding, gaping gunshot wound, without water, and without radio capabilities to call for help. As he sits in an increasingly large pool of his own blood, desperately trying to pin the enemy’s location as time is running out, his spirit is slowly being broken by the relentless verbal taunting and the realization that there is zero hope that this scenario is going to end well for him.

There’s a powerful sense of paranoia and fear that carries over through director Doug Liman‘s close-ups and smooth tracking shots (this film made me remember what a great director Liman truly is). The audience becomes part of the action as the camera is always right there in the dusty, sand-encrusted faces of these soldiers. The performances are strong and forceful, and Taylor-Johnson deserves to be a huge star based on moving performances like this. He seamlessly transforms from fearless courage to heightened despair to naive hope from moment to moment, and he’s truly fantastic in the role.

This isn’t a shoot ’em up nonstop action war movie, it’s more of an intense psychological thriller and slow burning talky about the horrors of war. It’s interesting and distinct in both its limited, cramped setting and its exceedingly pessimistic tone. The harsh ending could’ve used some rewrites because it feels like more of a “gotcha” gimmick than something meaningful, but it altogether fits with the increasingly distressing tone of the film.

This narrow, effective, and cynical war movie proves that filmmakers don’t always need a huge budget or pricey movie stars to make something substantial and worthwhile.

“Nocturnal Animals”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Tom Ford is quickly cementing himself as one of my favorite film directors, a man with such an impressive, original eye for visual beauty that it’s almost unfair to others who work in the medium. His gorgeous direction is filled with unparalleled finesse and ingenuity, making his films true works of art; it’s amazing how a clothing designer can so flawlessly shift from the world of fashion to the world of film. Ford is a true visual artist with not only an impeccable eye for stunning moving portraits, but he’s a talented screenwriter as well.

Ford effortlessly and skillfully balances two very strenuous narratives within one lurid, complex tale. The film, based on the Austin Wright novel “Tony and Susan,” tells the story of divorced couple Susan (Amy Adams), an art gallery owner, and Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), a writer. When Edward sends Susan a copy of his latest manuscript (the novel titled “Nocturnal Animals”), she begins to discover a somber truth about herself, her previous relationship with Edward, and the torment from consequences that fester after a decade of resentment and regret.

Ford seamlessly weaves three different timelines for his characters: the early years of their relationship, present day disappointment, and the fictional story within the story. The constantly shifting timeline is sure to leave many viewers confused, as this is a smart film that’s made for moviegoers who pay close attention and relish every seemingly insignificant detail on display. Fans of Refyn and Lynch will love this film.

The most dark, suspenseful tale is the actual plot of the novel: a man named Tony (Gyllenhaal) is traveling on a deserted road with his wife and daughter (Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber) when a group of hillbilly punks and their alpha trash leader Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) run them off the road. Something painfully tragic occurs, and Tony enlists the help of morally ambiguous West Texas detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) to track down his family.

Shannon is absolutely magnificent in this role; he’s unusually subdued, dynamically forceful, and incredibly powerful. In fact, every single performance from the ensemble cast is a true standout, from Adams’ hauntingly cold artist to Gyllenhaal’s dual role as a weak charmer as well as a desperate, grieving family man.

The cinematography (by Seamus McGarvey) is provocative and visually dazzling, filled with textural images that you’ll want to reach out and touch. This is a dark, haunting and insanely gorgeous film. The remarkable original score by composer Abel Korzeniowski is appropriately macabre and angry yet elegant, a fitting complement to this very grim mystery.

“Nocturnal Animals” is a stylish revenge thriller that’s violent and shocking, but it’s not pointless or careless with its characters or subject matter. This is an intensely distressing and disturbing tale of brutality that blurs the line between reality and fiction.

The constant shift in tone, story and timelines can be a bit messy at times, but it’s also what makes this film so compelling. It’s a striking, bleak exploration of the human condition and the ways we find to cope with our massive failures in life and love, as well as our role as a protector of what’s important in both.