Film Review: The Wall

Two American soldiers are trapped by a sniper in this suspenseful psychological thriller directed by Doug Liman.
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Essentially a three-hander in which the third character is a disembodied voice on a satellite phone, The Wall is set in 2007, shortly after President Bush declared victory in Iraq. But though most U.S. troops have gone home, a handful remain to tie up loose ends; they include Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews (John Cena) and Sergeant Allen "Eyes" Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), army rangers who are stuck on a hill in heavy gear watching a stretch of pipeline littered with civilian corpses. They have no idea who killed the workers or why or whether the killer/killers are still out there, though there isn't a lot of cover beyond a short length of dry-stacked stone wall, an enormous trash heap and a couple of vehicles, including a construction trailer.

They've been doing surveillance for the better part of 24 hours when Matthews makes the decision to go down to take a closer look; within minutes he's facedown in the dust, motionless. Isaacs, hit in the knee, is trapped behind the wall with a damaged satellite phone, a potential lifeline that becomes an instrument of psychological torture when the sniper—who might just be the legendary sharpshooter known to American servicemen as "Juba the Ghost" (Laith Nakli)—calls.

Written by Dwain Worrell (of TV's “Iron Fist”), The Wall could easily have been a play, which is not a criticism; the battle of wits between Isaac and his tormentor is tautly dramatic and the situation bizarrely claustrophobic—the bizarreness being that Isaac and Matthews are trapped in the sun-washed open desert (it was shot near Los Angeles) but pinned in place as surely as if they were locked in a dark, damp basement. If former WWE star John Cena's role isn't exactly thankless, he does have less opportunity to shine than Taylor-Johnson and Nakli (from off-screen) by virtue of being shot so early on; that said, he continues to show that he's a much stronger actor than one has any right to expect of a former WWE star.

The film's brisk running time is also in its favor; the situation is so pared down and anxiety-producing that there's a limit to how long dramatic tension can be sustained…and, for that matter, how long most viewers are willing to endure it.

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