The reasons for war are political but once in the conflict zone the men and women in uniform don’t have the luxury to think about war in political terms. They’re concerns are survival, completing their missions, and the well-being of their brothers and sisters in arms. The new thriller form director Doug Liman, The Wall, focuses on the survival aspect in a movie that operates with intensity as two soldiers are pinned down by an enemy sniper. There’s a political subtext to Liman’s film but it’s never anything that distracts from the fact that The Wall is a tense thriller about survival in hostile environment.
Two Americans, the sniper Matthews (John Cena) and his spotter Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), are surveying the threat around the construction of an oil pipeline where contractors have been ambushed. Over the 20 hours that they’ve been observing, they find no sign of enemy fighters. Matthews goes to survey the area up close when he’s hit by sniper fire. Isaac rushes to his aid but he’s quickly hit with sniper fire. Matthews lies bleeding in the desert sands as Isaac takes shelter behind a lone wall. Wounded and with a damaged radio, Isaac is unable to call for backup from other troops. In a deadly waiting game, Isaac is soon taunted over his local radio by Juba (Laith Nakli), the unseen enemy sniper. Isaac must battle the harsh elements and his wounds to try and outlast and outwit the sniper that is hiding from sight and all he has to shield him from certain death is a wobbly wall of dirty old bricks.
In recent years, Doug Liman has been directing action films on a large scale with films like The Bourne Identity or Edge of Tomorrow. With The Wall he really strips everything down to the bare necessities. There are basically only two characters on the screen with Matthews and Isaac as we never see the sniper Juba. Liman has crafted a movie that hinges on violence but isn’t an excessively violent movie. There are very few shots fired in the film but each bullet has immense meaning to the story, ramping up the tension with each round discharged.
Liman and screenwriter Dwain Worrell do a magnificent job of constantly complicating the story of survival, escalating the stakes and keeping the single location film always captivating. Aaron Taylor-Johnson gives one of the best performances of his career as the pinned down Isaac, and the character is forced to examine himself while staring down the possibility of his own death in the desert. There’s really something to be said about the way Taylor-Johnson is able to make a bag of melted Skittles seem like the most satisfying meal Isaac has ever had.
The Wall prioritizes intensity over any political messaging, though that’s not to say that the film absolutely shirks politics. There’s a subtext to the nature of American intervention that provides Juba with his motivation, and makes him a menacing villain sight unseen. It would be wrong, however, to claim that The Wall is a war movie with overt political messaging. It’s a story of survival that anyone ranging from the most anti-war liberal or the biggest rah-rah conservative can be captivated by. The film also features an ending that will take your breath away and leave you with various thoughts circling around your mind as the end credits begin to roll.
In a lot of regards, The Wall is incredibly similar to a film from earlier this year, Mine, only Liman’s film is able to garner a level of intensity that the latter was simply incapable of. The Wall is a sharp thriller that’s intense from start to finish and really highlights the Liman’s incredible skills on a smaller scale. The Wall gets your heart racing as it grabs a hold of your attention and never relents for an incredibly suspenseful 80 minutes.