The Wall focuses on the aftermath of the Iraq War as the US is continuing to “mop up” its effects. With pockets of resistance still scattered around the vast deserts, there are some soldiers still on duty across the country including sniper Shane Matthews (Cena) and his spotter Allen Isaac (Taylor-Johnson). On watch for almost 24 hours overlooking the construction of a pipeline, they soon get tired of the lack of activity and Matthews heads to check the surroundings. But just as he does, an enemy sniper shoots and wounds him a few hundred metres away from their position. Isaac immediately jumps into action but soon discovers that all that protects him from enemy fire is a small wall that becomes his “life raft” while Matthews is left to bleed out.
While on the surface this may seem like another modern war film but this is a different beast so those expecting a huge canvas encompassing all of the casualties of war might be disappointed by Liman’s latest. This is more enclosed than meets the eye, playing out more like a play than a film, with the story more focused on the insular than the surrounding gun fire as Taylor-Johnson and Cena are pretty much alone for the duration of the film but like us as an audience, there is someone watching and it’s that unseen element that gives proceedings a real tense edge.
Liman, who has made some large-scale blockbusters in his time like The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow, uses his experiences with psychologically damaged characters to good effect here and revels in the smaller details of the characters and situation rather than having to worry about providing moments of grandeur. This is all about the interior after all and while this is a much more restrained effort from Liman, he still manages to give the film a kinetic edge with most of the film shot handheld with some beautiful camera work and shots from photographer Roman Vasyanov.
Taylor-Johnson, whose career has slowly been elevating up to A-list level after acclaimed his acclaimed turn in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, here produces the best of his fledgling work. Entrusted with shouldering the bulk of the film, the Brit is in fine form here with a dramatic performance of both depth and quality and one which in another year and perhaps a different release spot may have even had an outside chance of getting into the awards race. Cena too is on career-best here and showcases his obvious talent when put in the right role and provides some much needed moments of levity through the standoff.
While it’s somewhat slight and a slow-burn in places, The Wall is an intelligent and entertaining film that focuses on the small battles of the war that get lost in the bigger picture. It’s lean, focused and beautifully shot and with two brilliant performances from Taylor-Johnson and Cena, it’s certainly one worth tracking down.