Guns, Mind Games, and a Battle for Survival

Doug Liman’s new film, The Wall, is an intense character drama focused on Allan “Ize” Isaac’s struggle to survive while taking sniper fire shortly after the Iraq War. Following the killing of a number of American contractors working to construct infrastructure as the military presence in Iraq winds down, Matthews (John Cena) and Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are sent to investigate the remote desert site. The events of the film are kicked off with the shooting of Matthews, who lies in the open, while the protagonist shelters behind a dilapidated stone wall, attempting to stay alive and fending off the Iraqi sniper who has hijacked his radio.

The Wall is not for the faint of heart. Liman does not shy away from the gory realities of wounds and pain on the modern battlefield, and Taylor-Johnson’s portrayal of a man under immense physical and emotional strain is unapologetically confronting.

Isaac grapples with a number of obstacles in his attempts to survive the ordeal, and perhaps save the life of his incapacitated comrade. Uncommon is the film’s ability to repeatedly surprise the audience with the twists of the film. Cinematography is employed skilfully to further the emotional intensity that comes along with the rise and fall of the soldiers’ fortunes.

By nature, a film that includes an element of psychological pressure from conversation with the enemy must raise questions about the nature of war. A perspective normally excluded from conventional broadcast in the West, the unseen sniper challenges the American narrative regarding their interests in Iraq and the Middle East, which have ongoing relevance to a 2017 audience. The discussion here is not heavy-handed, but raises no ground-breaking insights.

Remarkably, the film has no backing track, the complete lack of non-diegetic sound bolstering the desolate desert scene’s impact and the desperation of life-or-death conflict.

Overall, the film is well-made and unflinchingly honest. Far from the feel-good film of the year, The Wall is brutally realistic and painfully evocative.