Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article
Anyone predicting Doug Liman's new picture was a documentary relating to President Donald Trump or a cogently outlined, twelve-step plan about the construction of one of his most ambiguous campaign promises will prove to be very far off base if they choose to seek out the film. The Wall is little else besides an acceptable and lean 81-minute film that includes John Cena, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, a disembodied voice, a couple of weapons, an assembly of bricks, and a lot of sand. In that sense, it might be the first time a film succeeded with so little, at least since the concept of "Ryan Reynolds in a dimly lit coffin" was proposed to The Safran Company.
The men are Sergeant Allen Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a skilled sniper, and his lookout, Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews (John Cena), both stationed in Baghdad shortly after President George W. Bush declared the Iraq War over and a success. The duo are looking for a sniper amidst a desolate dessert, where several construction workers building a pipeline were killed, as well as another group of soldiers.
After twenty hours of inactivity, Matthews decides to venture out towards a fragile brick-wall about seven feet in height when he's shot and severely wounded by the sniper. Isaac races out, getting the antenna of his radio, his water-bottle, and a vein in his leg shot in the process, before ducking for cover behind the aforementioned wall. Initially, Isaac is taunted not only with the uncertain fate of Matthews, but also who is believed to be Juba (Laith Nakli), a notoriously successful sniper who has found a way to breach Isaac's radio-feed. Juba manages to get Isaac to believe that he is home-based, capable of sending a rescue mission, but as soon as the gig is up, his focus shifts to pestering Isaac about his family and his own motivations.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli
12 May 2017
Steve's Grade: B-
Isaac does everything in his immediate power to try and usurp Juba's upper hand in the situation, lodging his scope in fallen bricks of the wall in order to get a read on his position. Meanwhile, Matthews lies motionless in the open, with Juba referencing his ability and desire to assure a closed-casket funeral for the man.
This fact might disappoint some people, such as myself, who were finally hoping to see John Cena transcend the role of a faceless macho-man in The Marine franchise or the punchline lacking any form of charisma in Sisters and Trainwreck. His role in The Wall is very small, though he serve as a competent and humorous vessel for screenwriter Dwain Worrell's early-on jokes to land as him and Taylor-Johnson's character are lamenting their situation and expressing discomfort. However, in terms of defining Cena's capability or success as an actor, he and his film career are still stamped with a looming question mark.
It's Taylor-Johnson with whom Worrell confides and entrusts to handle the heavy-lifting of the film, and probably for the better. While he can't truly milk the film's narrative for any kind of emotional meat, he can at least prove to be an interesting presence on the basis for survival and avoid being unlikable like a field of landmines. His persistence is what draws us to him, and his unsuccessful attempts at trickery show his humanity and imperfections in a way that doesn't communicate the cliche of the impenetrable or indestructible soldier, at least on a physical level. We see Isaac begin to experience dehydration, mental fatigue, and searing pain that we worry that he will not be able to push through, unlike other way films, like Lone Survivor, where characters can fall down gigantic hills filled with trees, branches, shrubs, and bullets and still walk away mostly unharmed.
Liman's direction is mostly adequate, forgoing a lot of artistry in favor of a variety of shots and angles that try their absolute best to change our perspective of the setting. While Liman's direction fusses with visual clarity and intrigue, Worrell's screenplay dives into questions like "who is the real terrorist in this situation?" as well as the more-or-less expected critiques of American exceptionalism. Where The Wallcould've popped with subtext, it chose to fizzle and stew with its promise of carnality and structural simplicity. At the very least, it chose to bear a very abrupt, pessimistic ending I thoroughly embraced - something that might not have worked as well had it been too weighty.
The Wall, on the other hand, appeals to the senses in the brain that crave suspense and discomfort, and it mostly succeeds in delivering on that basis. It's not as fleshed out in a character or thematic sense as I'd argue it needs to be in order to be a classic in the league of films boasting single settings, but it has the basic requirements and gets just enough out of them to make the project work. It's like the kid who waited to write his essay last minute and really meant it when he said, "wait a minute, I got this."