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The Wall

Theatrical Review

Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions; 90 minutes

Director: Doug Liman

Written by on May 9, 2017 

As directed by Doug LimanThe Wall works as a taut piece of modern American mythos, sprinkled with hefty helpings of genre and jingoism. Set in 2007 at the “end” of the Iraq War, a duo of American soldiers (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena) get pinned down by an infamous Iraqi sniper whose legend is outweighed only by his accuracy and purported kill count.

While Cena’s Staff Sergeant Matthews lies wounded and exposed, Taylor-Johnson’s Sergeant Isaac takes cover behind a tenuous wall that’s one good push away from toppling over. The Black List script, from Dwain Worrell, utilizes the pseudo-chamber setting nicely while Taylor-Johnson does his best to anchor the intensity of the situation. The young actor still leaves something to be desired, but it is no stretch in saying he’s made some significant strides with solid, interesting turns both here and in last year’s Nocturnal Animals.


Not surprisingly, Liman is meticulous in the design of every molecule in each frame. The titular wall is cobbled and complicated, as is the aesthetic of Isaac’s scope as he desperately searches for the sniper. Dust is also used as a transitional element, which offers added tension when needed. Most of the dialogue takes place over Isaac’s local comm system, and the sound design is crisp and effective. There’s a clear intent to get down and dirty in every way, from the setting to production itself. This is economic, efficient filmmaking.

Liman made a name for himself squeezing every bit of value out of impressive indies Swingers and Go in the late 90s, quickly graduating to hefty studio budgets and hefty studio problems. In many ways, The Wall plays like the logical compromise of both sides of his career. The brisk running time (sub-90 minutes) and slim plot mesh with well-constructed set-pieces peppered throughout. Never overtly-politicized but rarely ignorant about the narrative’s real-world context, Liman and Worrell create genre fiction packaged in fractured patriotism. The legend of this deadly sniper is utilized to create a kind of modern, Americanized myth from the military world. It’s always difficult to reconcile the fun that can come from these stories of soldiers’ misfortune (Lone Survivor‘s bone-crunching sequences come to mind), but The Wall does well to lean into its entertainment values, as opposed to grand messages of honor and country and the like.


Cena is an inherently likable performer whose not given enough to do here, but makes the most of his moments. Laith Nakli puts in strong work as well, offering up a surprisingly textured voice performance. The limitations of the script do emerge in some of the final moments while Taylor-Johnson proves not wholly engaging enough for some of the second act stretches, but these blemishes fail to take away from the effect of the whole.

At its core, The Wall serves as a well-made, engaging war-time thriller that showcases Liman’s abilities as a top-notch storyteller, no matter the shape or size of the story being told.

The Wall opens on Friday, May 12.


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