In a tired genre that has made it increasingly hard to create a movie that is refreshingly different to the war film clichés, by providing innovating yet still gripping new takes on the subject, The Wall is a welcome addition. Playing out like the lovechild of 127 Hours and American Sniper, it is part survival film, part military thriller.
Metaphorical and moving
The setting is Iraq late 2007, after Bush has supposedly announced victory for the U.S. and troops have started to come home. This is not the case unfortunately for a pair of US Army snipers (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena), who are sent to investigate a series of killings at a construction site in the desert. However, they are instantly pinned down by an unseen marksman and Cena’s character is badly injured leaving young solider Isaac no alternative but to take cover behind an old unstable brick wall. The wall in question is the only thing standing between two opposing soldiers involved in what develops into a suspenseful showdown, and the crumbling wreck takes on a leading role in this cat and mouse battle of wits and mind games.
Abandoned by his company and of all hope of a rescue, Isaac is left baking in the desert heat, with no food, a serious injury, and nothing but a sadistic mental torturer on the other end of his radio, taunting at his every move. It makes a painful watch and Taylor-Johnson is devastatingly believable in his most full on, picture carrying role to date. He carries the film emphatically, putting in a solid performance displaying his character’s stubborn resolve effectively, alongside a harrowing vulnerability.
A short, sharp, intelligent thriller
Cult hero and wrestler John Cena gets minimal screen time but is excellent as Taylor Johnson’s grunting comrade. Elsewhere the deadly enemy sniper on the other side of the wall is only a voice on the end of a radio, a threat that cannot be seen, and this is a genius and thrilling move from Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity), as this menacing sharpshooter teases and provokes the frantic young soldiers.
The film tackles big ideas despite being a low-key project, for example the physical wall itself is a constant reminder of the destruction left behind in the wake of war. Clocking in at an effectively brief 84 minutes, the tension is maintained throughout and the result is a thoughtful entry into the war film genre that is brutal as it is nail bitingly tense.
The Wall proves ultimately to be the most intriguing and exceptional kind of war movie, a captivating insight into the brutality and equivocation of conflict, and with a standout performance from Taylor-Johnson it’s well worth a watch.
Words by Ed Budds