Edition 20 June 2017, by James Luxford
This Iraq war-set thriller sees its director and stars taking a much more considered, low-fi approach than in their other lines of work. Behind the camera is Doug Liman, the director famous for the fast thrills of the first Bourne film, Mr & Mrs Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow. In front of it is Aaron Taylor- Johnson, star of Godzilla and Kick-Ass, alongside WWE performer John Cena.
Johnson and Cena play Sergeants Isaac and Matthews, two American soldiers sent to investigate a pipeline being built in the Iraqi desert. Sniper Matthews is shot by an unseen assailant, leading his spotter Isaac to realise he has been led down into a trap, pinned down behind enemy lines. Injured and running out of options, Isaac enters a deadly mind game with his would-be assassin, who has commandeered the lines of communication. He must use the advise of the dying Matthews, and his own instincts, to find a way out. With many films taking a broad view of the conflicts in the Middle East, Liman scales it down to a microcosm, focusing on one man and his will to survive. It’s an admirable approach in many ways, resisting the temptation of elaborate battle scenes and effects. At times, however, it proves a little bit two limiting. There’s little to escape the fact that, for the most part, we are watching two men talk on a radio, with the grim tone offering very little in the way of respite. Happily, the overarching themes and psychological tension just about keep your focus.
Johnson is a fine actor, capable of making a good account of himself in a variety of genres. Here he does a great job as a man thrust into unimaginable conditions, thinking on his feet and keeping himself motivated despite the jeers of bad guy Laith Naiki, a little cartoonish as rival sniper Juba, but enough to present genuine threat on screen. Cena doesn’t have an awful lot to do besides be wounded, but represents the gung-ho American military ideal with aplomb.
An emotionally unsatisfying ending doesn’t help to quell the idea that this film would have been better served with more dimensions, taking the characters out of the confines with which they put themselves. However, as an exercise in tension and constraint, The Wall achieves an awful lot with very little, and confirms the leading man abilities of it’s star.