The year is 2007, and in Iraq it is believed the second Gulf War is drawing to an end, with President G.W. Bush announcing as much recently. But is it quite the final note being sounded as the American military would prefer to believe, or prefer its citizens to believe? For two U.S. soldiers, it seems to be business as usual as they investigate a pipeline development that has been struck by a sniper, leaving the bodies of the workers lying scattered around a small area. Warily, they size up the potential danger as they discuss between themselves what their next move should be; Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) wishes the older Matthews (John Cena) not to be too enthusiastic...
Initially, The Wall (not to be confused with the eighties Pink Floyd movie) appears as if it will be a two hander, and that's what it turned out to be, only not one between Taylor-Johnson and Cena, for the latter is shot down when his character ventures out to see what the situation is around the pipeline. That's when Isaac rushes down to rescue him (he is still alive) from the sniper and winds up with a bullet in his knee for his trouble, in spite of his attempts to dodge the firepower aimed at him from some hidden vantage point and manages to scramble behind the wall of the title, part of a schoolhouse that had been blown to bits by American missiles, if you're seeking a motive.
Items of political balance such as that caused director Doug Liman's efforts to be labelled un-American in some quarters, an absurd notion when the Iraqi sniper (voiced by Laith Nakli) was depicted as villainous through and through and Isaac an innocent victim doing his best under dire circumstances. Indeed, it was better not to worry over the global implications of the story when they were simply in the service of what amounted to a thriller in a war setting, pared down to the barest essentials with largely one character on the screen for most of its hour and a half. Once behind the wall, Isaac is pinned down since he does not know where his would-be assassin lies, but there's more to it.
This was down to a spot of dramatic licence as initially he thinks he is being spoken to by his base who are sending someone to rescue both him and Matthews, but he soon sees through the ruse of the Iraqi putting on an American accent to convince him to give away his precise position. This leads to a conversation of sorts, but amounts to the sniper silkily taunting the soldier to get a reaction out of him and, he hopes, persuade him to make a mistake or simply give up the ghost entirely, but Liman approached this in such a way that it did not become monotonous, finding something different to do at regular intervals rather than flogging his set-up to death within the first third and leaving himself with nowhere to go for the following two. Be it the wall collapsing bit by bit, or Matthews' revival, this did hold the attention.
What it was not, on the other hand, was realistic, preferring a Hollywood version of the Iraq war which paid lip service to some very complex and emotive situations, but in general was merely going for the pulse-pounding tension in setpiece after setpiece, indeed this was arguably one big setpiece that fluidly moved between the increasing hopelessness Isaac was stuck with only to dangle a carrot of hope before him at the last minute, before repeating the cycle once again. This was all very well, and Liman was reliable enough to make something worthwhile out of the challenge of Dwain Worrell's screenplay, but somewhere along the line they opted to change the ending from the most satisfying wrap up to a misguided statement on the dragging out of the conflict way past the point anyone thought it could, never mind should, have been. This struck a false note and rather sabotaged what had been a neat little suspense effort up to that point, it was a war movie, not a Friday the 13th instalment. Bear that in mind, and you'd probably not find The Wall too arduous otherwise.
[Studio Canal's Blu-ray has a featurette or three as extras.]
Pacy American director and producer, who after his humorous thriller debut Getting In, achieved cult success with comedies Swingers and Go. He then moved onto bigger budget projects with action premises with The Bourne Identity, Mr and Mrs Smith, Jumper and Edge of Tomorrow, then lower budget war flick The Wall.