A character study set against the backdrop of war is a compelling setting for film, and one that can explore the many facets of a human being when their life hangs in the balance. The Wall, from director Doug Liman is one such film, as the entire focus of the film, is Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character Isaac, as he attempts to survive pinned behind a wall by an enemy sniper.
The whole film is basically just Isaac fighting to stay alive, and working out exactly how he is going to make it out of the situation alive. There are two other characters, one is John Cena’s Matthews, the sniper paired with Isaac on this mission, though as the trailer shows, he is shot early on, and therefore separated from Isaac for most of the film. The other character is the enemy sniper, who is merely a voice through Isaac’s earpiece, one who is content to mess with the main character’s mind, while at the same time threatening to put a bullet in it. The film doesn’t explain how the enemy is tapped into the same comm channels as Isaac and Mathews, though it does hint at it through conversations the two have. The story plays out through conversations between Isaac and the sniper, as well as moments of panic from Isaac, as he works through scenarios for survival. The back and forth between the two tends to get a little repetitive, as do the many shots through Isaac’s scope, of him looking for his assailant. It can be tough to stretch a film out to feature length that is just a singular character on screen, with only intermittent conversations, and while it is mostly successful, the film does repeat sequences somewhat often.
Despite these moments that overlap on themselves, the film features a fair amount of tension, which distracts from some of the lesser elements of the film. The suspense about when the next shot may come, or if Isaac will succumb to his injuries, is exciting to watch, though the film never has that edge of your seat feeling, which is key to a survival film like this. While he is pinned down, Isaac is not really under constant attack, some random bullets here and there come his way, but it isn’t a heavy fire situation, it is a more methodical attack from the sniper, his taunting conversations a large portion of his strategy. The sniper constantly is trying to get Isaac to open up, because he knows that as a soldier, Isaac has been through tough times, and talking about those moments can break him, which is a far worse fate than death in that moment. The film touches on some of the harder aspects of the War in Iraq, but it does so without getting overly political about it, it just highlights the philosophical differences between the invaded, versus the invaders. The overarching narrative never gets too heavy, and there is a moment in the conversations that is meant to be a turning point, but doesn’t feel as impactful as maybe the filmmakers would like it to be.
Any film that puts the focus on a single character in one confined space relies on the actor or actress to carry the whole film, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson does a good job in doing just that. Taylor-Johnson aptly conveys the pain, mental anguish, and emotion of a young man in a very precarious position. The script helps, though it does tend to lean too heavily on slurs, and swearing. It makes sense in most of the circumstances that with what has transpired, Isaac would be swearing up a storm, but some of the dialogue choices feel lazy. Laith Nakli is the voice of the sniper, and he does well, though since he is just a voice, there isn’t much more to the character.
For ninety percent of the film The Wall is a good movie, there is a good amount of tension, a good performance from Taylor-Johnson, and a good story about survival and why a soldier fights for what he does. However that good film almost comes completely undone by its ending, which is disappointing, and predictable. There is a much better way to bring the story to a close, and whatever that way is, is not what carried out on screen. Had the ending been better, the film would have been a solid outing, not something groundbreaking or revolutionary in the genre, but a good film. What it is now is not bad, but it is hard to walk out of a film with a lackluster ending, and not have it impact the final grade.