Set in 2007, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews (John Cena, ‘The Marine’, ‘Trainwreck’) is a sniper, who is sent to investigate a pipeline construction site in the desert of Iraq, with his spotter, Sergeant Allen Isaac (Aaron Taylor Johnson, ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’, ‘Kick-Ass’ series). After watching for signs of an enemy sniper for nearly a day, the two assume he has left the area. Unfortunately they are wrong, and the sniper (known as Juba) not only still has his sights on them, but pins an injured Isaac down behind a crumbling wall.
A return to low-budget roots for blockbuster director Doug Liman (‘The Bourne Identity’, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’), ‘The Wall’ is the first spec script (it was featured on the 2014 Black List) ever to be purchased by Amazon Studios. The screenplay was written by Dwain Worrell, an American writer who was living in China at the time.
The meat of the film, playing out in real time, revolves around Isaac and the unseen Iraqi sniper engaging in mind games with each other. Aaron Taylor-Johnson turns in a solid performance as the young soldier suffering from heat exhaustion and a gunshot wound.
Through its use of a static location, no music, minimal characters and extensive dialogue, ‘The Wall’ feels like a one-man play brought to film. If you’re looking for something action-packed like ‘Sniper’, ‘Enemy at the Gates’, ‘American Sniper’ or ‘Shooter’, keep searching. This film shares more similarities with Rodrigo Cortés’ Ryan-Reynolds-in-a-coffin-with-a-lighter-in-Iraq film ‘Buried’ (2010) and Joel Schumacher’s psychological thriller ‘Phone Booth’ (2002), which featured Colin Farrell as another luckless bro trapped in an enclosed location by a chatty invisible gunman.
Through its use of a static location, no music, minimal characters and extensive dialogue, ‘The Wall’ feels like a one-man play brought to film.
Worrell drew from his background as a playwright to flesh out the second act of the screenplay, which focuses on Isaac's conversation with Juba. In an interview with Creative Screenwriting, Worrell said, "What interested me about it was the simple conversation between two people. That could almost be had on a New York City park bench with two guys playing chess. There is that sort of dynamic between the characters in the film."
Unfortunately, like ‘Phone Booth’, there is an almost total absence of tension in the second half, as Worrell, for the most part, emphasises the ideological conversations that ensue between Isaac and Juba... but the majority of the stuff coming out of their mouths is merely so-so and not particularly engrossing. Although things eventually pick up in the comparatively action-packed climax, the film is hurt by its inability to create characters the audience particularly cares about.
Ultimately, ‘The Wall’ is gripping, but there isn’t quite enough meat on its bones to cover its feature-length running time.