Even after a full day of contemplation, I’m still not really sure what to make of The Wall. Does it have a political message? Is it trying to be a new take on a now-neglected subgenre? Is it just a low-budget single location actor showcase that has little concern for greater depth or meaning? I don’t think I have the answer to any of those questions, and yet rather than being an interesting enigma for one to unravel in the aftermath of the experience, The Wall just sort of… is.
Set in 2007 Iraq, a pair of American soldiers, Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Matthews (John Cena) investigate a shootout that has left a handful of construction contractors and soldiers dead, only to be pinned down by an unseen sniper. Matthews is shot and lies unconscious in the sniper’s sights, while Isaac hides behind a crumbling bit of wall, as the sniper (Laith Nakli) taunts Isaac via a hacked communications signal.
So basically this is a revival of single-location, constant tension filmmaking, where a simple premise is milked for everything it’s worth over the course of ninety minutes. And in being just and only that, The Wall is a success. Cena plays to his acting strengths by playing possum for the majority of the film’s runtime, but with only a small set and limited mobility, Taylor-Johnson shines as he emotes with nothing to bounce off of except a disembodied voice. He alone sells the tension and horror of his situation, and he will keep you right there on his emotional wavelength up until the credits start to roll.
However, what makes The Wall so bizarre is that it teases at broader concepts and ideas but never seems to settle on what broader point it wants to make. The sniper’s main mode of psychological torture is to spout anti-imperialist philosophy at Isaac, which is never really intellectually refuted as Isaac’s arc seems to be in learning to shut out dissent and do his job as a soldier. However, the film’s ending seems to undercut that notion, and it leaves one to wonder whether director Doug Liman or writer Dwain Worrell had anything on their minds beyond a setting and a premise. Beyond the tension in the moment, there just doesn’t seem to be much of a point to telling this tale.
And yet, probably mostly due to its modest length and effective lead performance, I’m inclined to give The Wall a modest recommendation. This is definitely a small screen experience, though, best suited for viewing once it hits Amazon Prime in a few months and certainly not worth the cost of a theater ticket. That’s because it’s a small movie with small ideas presented through the smallest scope possible, but any good sniper knows that hitting the mark requires more than just knowing what’s in your sights.