The Iraq war is over and American troops remain on the ground as part of a post-war withdraw strategy. THE WALL follows two US army snipers who have been sent to investigate a pipeline construction site, which has suffered multiple casualties. The two men observe the site for 22-hours before declaring the area to be safe and secure from enemy presence. When they abandon their position to gain a closer perspective they are fired upon by an unknown assailant. Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews (John Cena) is critically injured - possibly dead - while Sergeant Allen Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) suffers a life-threatening gunshot to his knee. Trapped in a no-man's land, protected only by a decrepit wall, Isaac is stranded and without help. When the enemy sniper makes contact through their soldier-to-soldier radio-comm he sets in motion a game of cat & mouse and taunts the his American foe with a series of mind-games. Unable to call for backup, and desperately low on provisions, Isaac must rely on his own ingenuity and will-power to survive.
THE WALL is a smart Hitchockian thriller which serves as a shining example to Hollywood that big budgets do not necessarily equate to quality and that good action-packed movies are entirely obtainable at a fraction of the cost of the average blockbuster. In fact THE WALL's entire budget would be less than equivalent to a typical Hollywood movie's catering expenses.
Liman's clever production design keeps the entire story restricted to the one location, which in turn gives the film a strong focus, freeing it from unnecessary sub-plotting. His camera makes brilliant use of the setting as it weaves in and out of the predicament without imposing on the drama. At times we are up close and personal with Isaac, while at other times we watch from afar, and with a mostly score-free sound design the intensity of the situation is raw... the urgency tangible.
The performances are excellent. Aaron Taylor-Johnson gives an emotionally driven turn as Sergeant Isaac, and he commands the entire film almost single-handedly. His ability to switch between wounded agony to and adrenaline-fuelled bravado, before collapsing into exhaustion and defeat is something to behold. He is essentially given a place to sit with the brief of “surviving” and he uses every frame to his advantage. Working from a taught script and Liman's skilled direction it is a tour-de-force performance from one of Hollywood's most underrated rising stars. Kudos are owed to John Cena, too, whose performance sees him stepping out of the WWE shadow and into respectable dramatic territory. Despite his role being limited to 20-minutes of screen time his presence is felt through the entire film and his screen time is well measured and grounded.
THE WALL's terse running time of 87-minutes helps shape it into a concise thriller, the sort of which we rarely see in today's world of mass-produced, special-effect driven hogwash. My mind drew comparisons to other one-location films such as 127 HOURS and PHONE BOOTH, while reflecting on the type of psychological trickery that Hitchcock to gleefully exploited. Fans of war films will lap this one up, as will fans of the thriller genre, and one needn't like the other to engage with this clever post war tale of survival and smarts.