Not to be confused with Matt Damon’s whitewashed blockbuster The Great Wall, Doug Liman’s newest film The Wall is Hollywood’s latest war melodrama, albeit executed in a most un-Hollywood like manner. I say this with the recent movies about armed conflict and infamous deeds of modern terror at the back of my mind. They mostly take pride in parading about the courage of the American solider and the effects of war on a human being, all while shamelessly shoving the Star – Spangled Banner into our faces. Not that there is anything wrong with honouring heroes, but the propaganda involved is just too blatantly casted on the public.
The Wall challenges this status quo by taking a refreshing leap away from the proven formula as the film doesn’t tap on themes of patriotism, heroism or the like to carry its audience through its relatively slim 90 minute runtime like they are accustomed to for so long. For a movie which literally only has a desolate desert as its setting and the flexible, wide range of three characters to work with, The Wall tries its utmost to be as riveting as possible with the narrow parameters it is given and largely succeeds in doing so.
It is late 2007 and George Bush has declared victory over Iraq in the war. Post-war restoration projects have started and U.S. soldiers Allan ‘Ize’ Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Shane Matthews (John Cena) are sent to investigate a distress call in the desert of Iraq. After 22 hours on overwatch with no action, Ize and Matthews are convinced that the area is free of any threat. Matthews comes out of camouflage and proceeds to check on the dead bodies in the desert when he is suddenly shot by an enemy sniper. The pair are left badly wounded and with only a flimsy wall of cover separating them from the deadly Iraqi shot, a psychological battle of wits and marksmanship begins.
The timeless trick of using a highly self-contained environment and a few main characters to keep the tension levels high is admirably well done by Liman. This is aided by Dwain Worrell’s well-plotted script which has surprisingly intelligent interaction between the enemy sniper and Ize – using philosophical poetry to touch on the numerous scholarly subjects the English-speaking Iraqi sniper is supposedly educated in – the ambiguity of war being one of them. Juba is never seen, but his voice and sadistic intentions crackling over the radio are menacing enough for us to feel Ize’s will to live in the quiet chaos around him slowly break down.
It is stylistically sound as well, with Liman expertly using camera angles and one-shot sequences to portray the characters’ fear and frustration at being pinned down behind the wall. Be it just struggling to tie a tourniquet or Ize limping in agony from cover to cover to avoid gunfire, the camera stays with the character as he goes about trying to mitigate pressure from the enemy and at the same time, clawing his way to every glimmer of hope he can find to take the sniper down. Scenes like this might sound like your average bread and butter for a movie about war but it aids you in comprehending the stakes the soldiers are juggling fervently.
Even Quentin Tarantino, the master of long takes with witty dialogue has trouble maintaining the audience’s attention span in one setting and an ensemble cast to boot. So suffice to say, as talented a director as Liman is, boredom in The Wall starts to kick after the inciting incident of John Cena’s tragic gunshot wound. Pacing problems which are close to inevitable for this type of film manifest itself in the form of nothingness from the only two characters still alive and breathing as the script starts to repeat plot points.
As for the forces at work, there is only so much you can say about them. At the end of the day, the entire story centres on only three characters: two American soldiers at the end of their tethers and a hostile Iraqi who happens to only appear only as a phantom voice over the radio feed. To start off, Cena has a tight screen time to cast a big influence on. He starts the film trash talking his spotter and from there on, (u can’t c) him any longer, which is a pity of course because he was likable presence in the scenes he was in.
Being the solo protagonist in the dust ridden setting, Taylor-Johnson is excellent in carrying the movie through as he passionately sells his gruesome injuries and frequent asthmatic breathing due to the practically inhalable atmosphere. His portrayal as a redneck is convincing enough for you to sense his frustration at failed attempts and the ultimate fear of a pathetic, lonely death.
Liman is brilliant with many small parts of the films and everything which he and his team do right with the material culminate to help elevate the minimalistic story and setting to become the nail-biting equivalent of his previous successful projects like The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow. The ending is unfortunately hugely disappointing, undermining all the suspenseful build-up the movie had going from the beginning. Hints towards the film’s numerous twists and turns are aplenty. While it is still startling when the exact moment hits, it is very easily predictable when Ize mutters his bullet examination to himself out loud, expressing genuine surprise at a 7.62mm round, which in other words is capable of shredding helicopters and Humvees to a pulp.
Should you spend money and time on it? Yes
Directed by: Doug Liman
Written by: Dwain Worrel
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli
Running time: 81 minutes