Imagine the terror of being trapped behind a less-than-stable wall of misshapen stones, alone, and at the mercy of a highly-trained assassin? It is so terrifying that the average moviegoer may not be able to relate. "The Wall" tries mightily to have us experience that fear, along with Sergeant Allen Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews (John Cena), who are caught in this deadly cat-and-mouse game.
Directed by Doug Liman, who has a notable filmography, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (2005), "The Bourne Identity" (2002), "Edge of Tomorrow" (2014), and written by first-time screenwriter Dwain Worrell, "The Wall" is billed as a "deadly psychological thriller". And perhaps in the hands of a more experienced screenwriter, it may have been. Because, as we all know if you've been reading my reviews long enough, it's all about the writing.
Worrell's script falls terribly short of its lofty goal. Though we never see the Iraqi sniper, his voice is heard through Isaac's headpiece. At first, the sergeant doesn't realize he's speaking to his mortal enemy. He's trying desperately to reach someone from his base, requesting medical attention and rescue.
But, alas, it's his nemesis, who is quiet, patient and seemingly interested in Isaac's thoughts and opinions. His attempt to befriend Isaac unnerves the rattle American, which makes him even more determined to rescue Matthews and himself.
And that is the downfall of "The Wall". The intensity and desperation never reaches the fever pitch necessary to make this entire situation believable. First off, Matthews' unwillingness to stay put and not endanger himself or Isaac is suspect. I would like to think that our snipers are better trained than what is demonstrated here, but I may be wrong.
The overwhelming sense of dread is so palpable that "The Wall" becomes exceedingly depressing. The only light moment in the entire film comes when Matthews shakes his booty --- and trust me, Cena has a great booty. It's a sweet and endearing moment in an otherwise relentlessly sad movie.
Taylor-Johnson is a truly gifted actor. His performance in last year's "Nocturnal Animals" was superb. But when actors are hampered by the material, it is not their fault. Taylor-Johnson is as true to his role as humanly possible, but without the heightened peril, and true psychological torture, "The Wall" crumbles.
Cena is terrific, but alas, his role is truncated. Do not despair, I am convinced we will be seeing a great deal more of him in the future.
Opinion: Wait for DVD
War movies never seem to go out of style, but typically they involve hordes of soldiers on opposite sides trying to maim and kill each other. "The Wall" is a different animal in the genre. Essentially there are only two soldiers present for most of the film, so it was up to director Doug Liman, screenwriter Dwain Worrell, and actors Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena to create a scenario that would hold an audience's attention. They succeed.
For 81 minutes, Liman and his crew have fashioned an often gripping view of a life-and-death struggle between Staff Sergeant Matthews (Cena), Sergeant Isaac (Taylor-Johnson) and an unseen enemy --- although he is heard via Isaac's earpiece --- bent on killing the duo.
The actual wall that Isaac hides behind to shield himself from the Iraqi sniper is a third character with a life of its own. The crumbling stone structure changes its facade as the movie progresses, victimized by enemy gunfire.
Shot in Super 16mm in a desert area near Los Angeles that easily could be taken for an Iraqi or Afghan battleground, the cast and crew of "The Wall" had to endure many days of extreme heat, high winds and a virtual dust bowl to make this movie.
Cena and Taylor-Johnson bring Worrell's script to life, especially Taylor-Johnson who had to act alone for the majority of the film. The 26-year-old Brit, who won a Golden Globe for last year's "Nocturnal Animals", is excellent in this role. His torturous dilemma made me cringe at times, as in one scene where he has to extract a bullet from his shattered knee.
We're never sure if Matthews and/or Isaac will be rescued by U.S. forces, or if Isaac's frantic messages are even getting through. But I can tell you "The Wall" has a surprise ending many diehard fans of war films won't see coming.
Opinion: See It Now!