Bitter, subversive, and violently fierce all throughout its super-lean 80 minute running time, Doug Liman’s Iraq war thriller The Wall operates as both a minimalist genre exercise ala Phone Booth and Buried, while angrily commenting on American foreign military involvement. And it serves as a reminder that Liman, who certainly got bit by the blockbuster bug (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Edge of Tomorrow), can still drop a down and dirty little gem that delivers a smart gut punch. The Wall is short and sweet so I’ll keep my comments the same, as the less you know about this nervy picture the better. I’ve long been a big fan of Liman’s varied technique and it’s exciting to see him switching gears and taking on a gritty quickie like this; he’ll be back on screens later this year with the drug running crime film American Made with Tom Cruise.
Dwain Worrell’s ultra-focused screenplay was the first spec script purchased by distributor Amazon Studios, with the plot centering on two American soldiers, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena, who become trapped by an Iraqi sniper near a small compound and partially destroyed cement wall. When Cena is hit, it’s up to Taylor-Johnson to save himself and his partner, all the while contending with the enemy combatant who has hacked into their radio, remaining unseen for the entire film, and clearly enjoying his close yet hidden proximity. Taylor-Johnson is very effective as the panic-stricken soldier who is also dealing with a potentially life-threatening bullet wound, Cena spends most of the narrative with his face down in the dirt but is still quite strong, and the calm yet chilling voice-over performance of Laith Nakli understandably makes you anxious.
The Wall hugely benefits from Roman Vasyonov’s exceptional and jittery widescreen cinematography (the film was shot on 16mm film stock), while Julia Bloch’s no-fat editing keeps the pace lightning quick without ever sacrificing any of the fired-up dramatics. The solo location keeps things intense and claustrophobic despite being set outside, and the lack of a traditional musical score keeps the film all the more tense and unnerving. The ending is startling and exactly as it should be. The Wall was released last weekend to a questionable Rottentomatoes score of 62% (if the Marvel logo were attached it’d be in the 90’s), and practically non-existent box-office returns. To be fair, I doubt many people are aware of this movie, which is a huge shame, as smart and ruthless thrillers like this are in small supply, especially during the increasingly empty-headed summer movie season.