Doug Liman Discusses Building the Tension of ‘The Wall’

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Doug Liman

Doug Liman made his name directing comedies like Swingers and Go but in recent years has established himself of as one of the best action directors working today with movies like The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow. With his latest film, Liman utilizes his action sensibilities on a smaller scale with The Wall, a thriller set in the Iraq War featuring Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena as two American soldiers pinned down by an unseen Iraqi sniper.

“My favorite scene in Edge of Tomorrow, the reason I ended up making the film, was the scene with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in the farmhouse. It’s just two actors, no aliens, nothing. I’m interested in sort of big extraordinary situations but I’m really interested in it because of what happens to the people in those situations,” Liman said of what drove him to make the scaled down tension of The Wall. “The reasons I make those big movies is for the sort of intimacy in the face of that – The Wall is just that. It’s like just the candy center of those over movies. Candy center may be the wrong word for a movie that is pretty tense.”

The Wall may deal with one of the most political topics of the 21st century with the Iraq War but Liman never allows his film to be bogged down with political messaging. “The politics are tricky when you make a war movie, especially for somebody like myself. I have strong opinions. Strong opinions about the Middle East, strong opinions about politics, but I really recognize that audiences aren’t going to the movies to hear my opinion,” the filmmaker said of his approach to the political content. “It may be because I’ve had to suffer through too many Oliver Stone movies. That’s not why I go to the movies. If you really want to do politics be a politician.”

Liman continued examining the political context of the film’s story. “The thing about the politics of The Wall is it’s decidedly apolitical. You can read politics into it. They are there. There’s a pipeline right on the other side of the wall. There’s a lot of nuances to it. At its heart it’s a story of survival, but there’s a context. It was important for me to give it that context. Sometimes the worst enemies are the once we create,” Liman said. “If there’s any political message in The Wall it’s that our political leaders should understand the human face of war. When we decide to go to war this is what it looks like.”

Doug Liman may have stated his political opposition to the war in Iraq but he has nothing but reverence for the men and women in uniform. “They’re doing their patriotic duty and part of what I liked about making The Wall is I like grounded superheroes. Jason Bourne is a superhero. Obviously, Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow has a superpower. Your average American soldier is like a superhero,” Liman explained. “Think about it, all those pouches. He’s got like everything you need to survive – tourniquets, gauze, rope. They’re like a one-man killing machine, a self-contained killing machine, these American soldiers. Their perseverance in the face of what seems like impossible odd is something I try to bring to all my movies but The Wall really was a chance to go way deeper on that.”

The ending of The Wall is a real kicker, one that you won’t find spoiled here. “That’s not the original ending of the movie,” Liman told me. “Then I was doing a friends and family screening in December and a friend of mine, who has a book coming out called Gargoyle Hunters that’s getting all these rave reviews and obviously a really smart writer. Just a friend looking at the movie was like, ‘You know, you should change the ending.’ Then he pitched the ending that you now saw. The moment I heard it I thought, ‘Oh my god, that’s how the film has to end.’”

Deciding on a last minute change to the film’s ending didn’t dissuade Amazon, the studio behind The Wall, in allowing Liman to follow his instincts. “The thing about Amazon that was extraordinary was calling up the studio head and being like, ‘I wanna reshoot the ending and [SPOILERS REDACTED].’ I’m expecting to have a big fight and they’re like, ‘You’re right. It’s a better ending.’ They said, ‘It’s probably less commercial but it’s a better movie, a smarter movie. You should go do it,’” the director explained.

Later this year, Liman will be releasing American Made with Tom Cruise and the director is also still discussing an Edge of Tomorrow sequel, but as to what might follow the director isn’t quite sure. “Part of my decision making process about what story to tell next is I have to feel a personal connection to the material. I feel a personal connection to the material of The Wall. The perseverance component of The Wall is something I feel a real personal connection to because my career has been one of many, many missteps and failures that I then persevere through and turn into success,” Liman told me about the search for his next project.

“The other thing is the reaction to the movie I just made. The Wall in a way is a reaction to Edge of Tomorrow because Edge of Tomorrow I had to create this crazy, outlandish scenario to put Tom Cruise as a soldier in a really tough box to get out of. With The Wall I was like, ‘Wow, I can do the same thing in a way simpler way with an Iraqi sniper and a wall with two actors and a single location,’” he continued. “I don’t think I would’ve made The Wall had I not made Edge of Tomorrow. I know I wouldn’t have made Mr. & Mrs. Smith if I hadn’t made The Bourne Identity, because Mr. & Mrs. Smith was a rejection of everything I glamorized in The Bourne Identity.”

Before he’s ready to move on, Doug Liman has to do one final thing with The Wall – watch it with an audience. “The paint is still wet on The Wall in terms of what exactly my takeaway will be. I’ll go this upcoming weekend to see it with audiences and that’s usually where I find it,” Liman said. “So the process really ends for me when I’m sitting in a movie theater and watching it with a regular audience that has paid money to go see it. Off of that experience I’ll probably have some kind of emotional reaction that will guide me towards my next film.”

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