Truth in advertising still exists it seems, as The Wall very much does indeed focus on a wall. I have this wish that more modern-day Hollywood movies would use more inventive titles and eschew these shorter generic titles running rampant in modern cinema but at least the more truncated title of The Wall is pretty accurate to what the actual movie entails. The only way it could be more accurate is if it somehow managed to cram in the names of its two lead actors and its primary location (Iraq) in the title, though at that point I suppose the title would become quite unwieldy at that point. I doubt they could even fit that on a poster in a satisfying manner.
Anyway, how does this titular wall fit into The Wall? Well, it comes into play during a mission that soldiers Allen Issac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Shane Matthews (John Cena) are on that involves them trying to locate the man responsible for some deaths in the middle of the dessert. While trying to get to the bottom of the things, Shane Matthews is shot by an unseen sniper. He falls to the ground while Allen Isaac hides behind a (you guessed it) wall for cover. Once there, he finds himself pinned down by this crafty sniper, unable to leave. His only company is a walkie-talkie which the sniper uses to communicate to Isaac.
From there, the motion picture becomes an extended conversation between Isaac and the shooter, with occasional interruptions arriving in the form of Isaac trying to figure out ways to help Matthews and escape. The Wall fully commits to this stripped-down story, never once having the camera engage in wider shots or aerial shots that would expand the scope beyond what either Isaac or the unseen enemy sniper can gaze. We are trapped in the crosshairs of these two particular characters for this entire movie and the camera isn’t about to break that more intimate atmosphere. Let it not be said that this is a film that doesn’t commit wholly to its basic premise.
The same can be said of the main actor of The Wall, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who finds himself in more small-scale confines compared to his recent blockbuster work in films like Godzilla and Avengers: Age Of Ultron. The character he plays, Allen Isaac, started out as too much of a caricature of a Southern good o’l boy for my taste, especially since the one-note nature of the character is reinforced by how the movie is entirely concentrated on extended pieces of dialogue delivered by Isaac, which don’t really make him the most compelling character to watch in some earlier scenes.
There’s a similar one-dimensional quality in the unseen enemy sniper which is compounded by him delivering well-worn dialogue to Isaac like “We’re not so different you and I”. The lack of depth in these two characters early on made me worry the admirably restrained structure of The Wall was going to be done in the service of poorly done characters, but luckily, both of them become more fully-formed as the story goes on and it’s worth mentioning that Aaron Taylor-Johnson does a great job handling his characters conflicting feelings of increasing weariness and his similarly mounting determination for survival.
The claustrophobic nature the entire premise hinges on is also utilized incredibly well throughout the third act, there are some real nail-biter moments in here that director Doug Liman handles quite well. You know who else does good work here is none other than John Cena who gives off a natural presence in his performance that makes me wanna see him do more dramatic work like this, he seems to have the potential to have real chops as an actor. Yep, he turns in notable acting in the solid thriller The Wall, a film with a story that dives into an intimate wartime confrontation with the kind of well-made intense sequences and dark tone such a concept needs to work.