The reliable Doug Liman turns his scope to a breezy, small-scale war drama.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
The most surprising thing about The Wall is how small it is. It has just three actors: John Cena as Sergeant Shane Matthews; Laith Nakli as Juba, a voice on a radio; and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Sergeant Allen “Eyes” Isaac, who carries the entire shebang on his blessedly charismatic shoulders. With two out of the three offscreen most of the time, the vast majority of the film is spent watching Taylor-Johnson circle the titular wall in 2007 Iraq while dodging sniper fire from Nakli. That’s the entire film: Taylor-Johnson being shot at by an unseen enemy while Cena plays dead.
With so little narrative meat, director Doug Liman – more famous for blockbusters like Edge of Tomorrow – relies entirely on Taylor-Johnson’s screen presence and his chemistry with Nakli. Thankfully, neither of those things are in short supply. Both performers bring their A-game: Taylor-Johnson is desperate, but resourceful and rivetingly human in his pain, while Nakli manages to sell even severe clichés like “we’re not so different, you and I.”
It helps that writer Dwain Worrell’s (Iron Fist) dialogue isn’t all clichés. His television work might not do him any favours, but here Worrell at least makes both his villain and his protagonists entertaining. It’s a pleasure hearing the initial banter between Cena and Taylor-Johnson and better still, Worrell sidesteps any questionable politics. You might think that a film called The Wall would have a Trump reference or two, but Worrell dodges that bullet and instead focuses on the barrier representing post-war Iraq.
The Wall’s short length is to its benefit; it’s breezy pace ensures the dialogue keeps snapping when it needs to, and a lack of padding means you’ll walk out satisfied. It’s an above average war drama with no other major aspirations, and there’s a certain nobility within that objective. This is a film more interested in entertaining than enlightening, and that’s something that should be appreciated every once in a while. No frills, no BS, just two men fighting for their lives in hellish conditions. I can get behind that.
The Wall is available in Australian cinemas from August 10
Image courtesy of Roadshow Films