Strangely, I’d only discovered this film a few weeks ago when I’d found it in a second hand dvd shop. Doug Limon’s a favourite director of mine, and who appeared from the same gen-X Independants as directors like Alexander Payne, David O’Russell and Richard Linklater.
His low budget features Swingers (1996) and GO (1999) remain benchmarks in the low budget filmmaking, while his commercial studio projects such as Bourne Identity (2002), Adjustment Bureau (2011), Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and American Made (2017) were interesting experiments in genre and conventional storytelling if not exactly subversive or original.
I feel where Payne and O’Russell tended to go for projects that interesting for their political or satirical themes, Linklater and Limon, while not modelling themselves as ‘auteurs’ like Fincher, Wes Anderson, PT Anderson or Tarantino, were still experimenting with the conventions of the studio system. Both of his previous and lastest films, the Tom Cruise produced films Edge of Tomorrow and American Made, were fairly standard Spielbergian/Scorsese-esque homages, but this is in stark contrast to The Wall (2017) which feels like a very conscious decision to be polemical.
It is by far one of the harshest, bleakest indictment about the US occupation in Iraq and Afganistan I’ve seen. Although there have been many interesting Hollywood films and series about both the politics and experience of soldiers in this conflict, such as Generation Kill (2008), American Sniper (2014), Jarhead (2005), Hurt Locker (2008), Green Zone (2010) and Three Kings (1999), none have been quite as pessimistic as this one.
Most of these tended to focus either on the impact of PTSD on the soldiers or satirise the the politics and gung-ho patritism of the campaign itself.
Limon’s film echoes Hurt Locker and Jarhead for its grim reality and black humour as it follows the minute by minute actions of two snipers investigating an attack on contractors working on an oil pipeline. At first it seems like a standard attack by injurgents until they find themselves caught in the crosshairs of an enemy sniper, cut off from their base support.
This setup resembles the claustrophic ‘real-time’ thrillers like Phone Booth (2003) and Buried (2010), as the soldiers are left isolated and helpless while the sniper taunts them over their radio. The sniper quickly reveals he was once a teacher that had taught English but been trained by the US forces. We never see the enemy but he quotes poetry and mocks the Americans in away reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter.
At one point the American calls him a terrorist and his response is simply ‘but this is my country’. The question the sniper repeatedly asks, which the wounded solder refuses to answer, ‘why are you still here? The war is over.’ With questions as political and diffciult as these, it doesn’t surprise me that I’d never heard of this film or that it never got a wider release.