The Wall (2017)
Directed by Doug Liman
Written by Dwain Worrell
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Sergeant Allen “Ize” Isaac
John Cena as Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews
Laith Nakli as The Voice (Juba)
Run Time: 88 mins
Box Office: $4.5M
IMDb 6.2/10 Metacritic 57/100 Rotten Tomatoes 65%
I watched this film today thinking it was going to be more of a war/action movie rather than a true suspense thriller. I was wrong. This film was so good, in my opinion, that I started writing this review immediately after watching the film and even had it playing again while working on this post.
While I don’t want to give any substantive details away, the movie is six years old and the trailer tells you just as much as I am going to about the plot. However, I will not reveal the ending as I would hate to be the reason you don’t watch the film. You'll find the trailer below.
However, let me set the scene for you. It’s 2007 in Iraq. President Bush has declared victory in the war in the Middle East. The rebuilding process and efforts have begun. Some civilian contractors are on location to build pipelines as part of the new infrastructure program. However, the civilians were attacked by an Iraqi sniper. Two American soldiers have been sent to conduct a recon mission and report back to superiors for further instruction. The first is Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews. The other is Sergeant Allen Isaac. Matthews calls him “Ize”. These two soldiers have been on sight for twenty-plus hours. They have been staring at several dead bodies in the sweltering heat in full sniper gear of their own and looking through their scopes at the scene before them. It seems that the contractors are all dead. There are other American soldiers that they can see that are also dead. Yet they have seen no movement, no shadows, no shots fired.
In the eerily quiet and deserted area, the remnants of what was once a building sit in shambles. Being a construction site there are the pipes from the lines being put down, pallets of building materials, a couple of trucks, a large pile of trash, a site management trailer, heavy machinery and equipment, the typical things found at a work site.
After seeing nothing of concern for such an extended period of time, Matthews decides to leave their observation position of cover and go down to the site itself and investigate. In doing so he of course exposes himself with no means of cover or protection. He soon realizes that all the victims were killed with shots directly to the head. This sets off internal alarm bells, as it should, and he quickly relays to Ize that something is wrong. Then Matthews gets shot and goes down. He is badly wounded and can’t move, out in the open in the middle of the site.
Ize runs out to retrieve his wounded comrade but is also shot. He takes a round in the knee effectively knee-capping him, causing him to take shelter seeking protection behind a crumbling stone wall. He goes through all his attempts to radio for rescue but they are unsuccessful. He does his best to bandage himself up and figure out what to do.
That’s when things get really interesting. The sniper contacts him on the local radio system that the soldiers use with each other. What follows is an intense yet relatively calm exchange between Isaac and the sniper. And the psychological warfare begins. And it is warfare. The emotionless voice seeps into the corners of Isaac’s mind like a toxic sludge. The result is an incredible cerebral battle of will, skill, and stamina.
What is entirely chilling is that not only do we know the sniper is there from the very beginning but also the strangely casual conversation he attempts to make with Isaac. Instead of military secrets and classified information, the voice on the other end of the radio wants to chit-chat as if they are pals, even comrades. He wants to hear stories from the American soldier about his life, his family, and his friends. He even wants to hear about Isaac’s experiences as a soldier. Now, as if being trapped in the desert under sniper fire isn’t bad enough, this particular sniper enjoys toying with his prey before he kills them. His voice is emotionally void and his attitude is one of unvarnished superiority which creates an extraordinarily intense and somber situation, like a stalker calmly taunting his victim with a barrage of “friendly” texts and phone calls. Except this stalker is a sniper in the desert in a foreign country.
Although the typical critics don’t seem to give this movie much credit or praise (and I rarely agree with these people anyway) I feel that the film was done very well. The action starts almost immediately. While it isn’t a rush of lethal bombardments stacked on top of each other, there are virtually no slow moments or lulls. It is a steady stream of “what happens next?” that keeps the viewer engaged and invested in the outcome. I think it takes a certain skill to make a movie that has one set, a simple plot, and basically one character. Think about Cast Away with Tom Hanks. And no, the actor in this film is no Tom Hanks but the same idea is there. Hanks carried that whole movie on his own with nothing but a volleyball to keep him company. It was a guy stranded on a deserted island. Classic plot theme. So simple. Yet the details in the story of that man on that island were much more complicated. Tom Hanks made it feel real to the rest of us.
A similar thing is done in this story. The intimate nature by which the enemy engages him, the struggles of survival, and the pending doom hovering over him all combine in a tantalizing mixture to make what I thought was a pretty damn good movie. Yes, some of it may be a little predictable however the execution of those things still creates a very satisfying film that gets your mind going, keeps your eyes peeled, and gets your blood pressure up.
Anyone who likes suspense thrillers would probably like this film. I like war movies. And combining a war movie with a psychological thriller was a perfect setup for a very entertaining movie.