THE STORY – When two soldiers are pinned down by an Iraqi sniper, with nothing but a crumbling wall between them, their fight becomes as much a battle of will and wits as it is of lethally accurate marksmanship.
THE CAST – Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena & Laith Nakli
THE TEAM – Doug Liman (Director) & Dwain Worrell (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 81 Minutes
By Matt N.
Doug Liman is an interesting director in that he has always been very solid with the projects he chooses but has not managed to make something that was truly special. Sure, you have the occasional hit such as “Swingers,” “The Bourne Identity” or “Edge Of Tomorrow” but he has yet to make something which brings his career to the next level. Teaming up with WWE Superstar John Cena and Golden Globe Winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Nocturnal Animals”) and crafting a psychological war film, I thought that “The Wall” could be the film which helped to push Doug Liman into a new phase in his career. Sadly, I was wrong.
It’s 2007 and the war in Iraq is at an end. Sgt. Allen Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Staff Sgt. Shane Matthews (John Cena) are overlooking a construction area deep within the desert of Iraq where multiple bodies now lie murdered. Isaac is convinced that it was one lone sniper who did the killing while Matthews believes it could have been multiple men and they are sitting in the desert wasting their time. Matthews presses on to inspect the construction site when suddenly he is struck by a bullet in the belly. Isaac runs out to him, only to have his leg, water bottle and radio all shot up by the same sniper. Pinned down behind a wall which separates him from the sniper but with an injured Matthews stuck in between them, Isaac must outwit the skillful Iraqi sniper (Laith Nakli) if he wants to live another day.
Not to be confused with President Trump’s intended wall for south of the border, “The Wall” represents the literal structure which Aaron Taylor-Johnson finds himself behind for a majority of the movie, evading an enemy sniper. Or it could represent the psychological walls we put up in our minds when dealing with such a stressful situation. “The Wall” starts off very promising with a tense opening which sees Staff Sgt. Matthews get shot in the belly. He’s left to bleed out in the open desert while Sgt. Allen Isaac gathers his bearings after being shot himself in the leg by the same cunning sniper. There is no music and Liman plays everything out through sound, patient storytelling, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s intense performance.
However, the film takes a turn for the worse when the realism gives way to phony theatrics and contrived storytelling once the enemy sniper reveals himself to Sgt. Isaac via. over the radio. Speaking English, calm and very deliberate in every action he takes, this sniper, or Juba as he is called, is far too unrealistic for the audience to take seriously. It’s here, where the middle section of the film starts to lose steam and even though the film clocks in at under an hour and a half, still feels very long. Gone is the tension and focus which Liman had been setting his audience up for. Instead, he chooses to focus on the character of Isaac and the conversations Isaac has with Juba which contains corny dialogue such as “We are not so different, you and I.” Unfortunately, this form of storytelling unfolds like a play between two characters, each expressing their morals and point of view of the Iraq War, all the while trying to outsmart the other. It never really reaches a boiling point of tension, which is what Liman is surely trying to accomplish. Had he focused more on the actions of Sgt. Isaac and not have introduced the enemy sniper as a defined character at all, this could have been a more gripping and intense film.
What should have been a tense and engaging war thriller, “The Wall” simply puts up far too many walls to allow us to get there. Liman’s film is stripped of multiple sets, characters (There is a total of three) and moments of excitement. He makes this all work for a time but eventually “The Wall” turns into a silly game of cat and mouse where Aaron Taylor-Johnson might as well be trying to outsmart the Devil himself, this sniper is too good to be true. Fortunately, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is up to the task to carry the entire film on his back while John Cena spends most of the film on his back (Or belly, rather) leading this war film to be a passable experience but not one that can even match up to the single ten minute sniper sequence from something far greater such as “The Hurt Locker.”
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s physical and emotionally demanding performance.
THE BAD – What starts off as a potentially absorbing thriller gives way to a silly cat and mouse game between two snipers which does not illicit nearly as much excitement as it should.