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Because The Wall is set in Iraq and tells the story of a sniper, you can't help but compare it to American Sniper, especially since Doug Liman's war film comes hot off the heels of the similarly plotted Armie Hammer led effort Mine. While American Sniper had its detractors, the fact that it grossed $547.4 million meant that there was always going to be copycat releases.
The Wall looks to appeal to American Sniper's audience, but does so without the same extravagance of Clint Eastwood's film, and, like Mine, it boils its conflict down to one setting, hoping to then wring enough tension and drama out of the situation through a towering leading performance. While it's more successful at it that Mine, The Wall can't sustain its histrionics beyond its set-up, and it is only able to remain compelling because Aaron Taylor-Johnson fulfills the aforementioned acting criteria.
The Golden Globe winner stars as Sergeant Allen Isaac, a spotter for sniper Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews (John Cena), both of whom are stationed in Iraq in 2007. After a grueling 22 hours over-watching a pipeline where oil contractors have recently been killed, Matthews, believing the area to now be clear, heads down... only to be shot by the waiting sniper.
Isaac runs down to assist his comrade, but he soon comes under fire, too. Isaac takes shelter behind a wall, while Matthews lays on the ground close-by, in full sight of the sniper and bleeding out quickly. However, rather than shooting them both dead, the Iraqi sniper is able to communicate with Isaac over the radio, and it's soon revealed that he's rather vindictive. Unable to get in contact with other U.S. forces, Isaac and the Iraqi soon begin to talk as Isaac looks to plot his escape.
The problem with The Wall is that it doesn't help itself, and it's ultimately hindered by its limitations. It actually has the potential for a compelling film, but instead, it gives itself too many restrictions, as we only ever see the film from the perspective of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, while the twists, turns, obstacles, and mini-missions thrown his way are nowhere near striking or surprising enough to make us more invested or gripped. Dwain Worrell's script, which appeared on the 2014 Black List, has the right beats, and ebbs and flows well, but feels more like a good premise and idea that wasn't able to fully translate to the big-screen.
It has all the best tools at its disposal to impress, too, as it is overseen by Doug Liman, whose impressive CV is full of films that have been vibrant and gripping, including Go, The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs Smith, and Edge Of Tomorrow. Since Doug Liman's previous forays into the action genre have seen him provided with an ample budget and scope, he deserves kudos for trying to scale back his efforts with The Wall, as it is a back to basics, mano-a-mano duel that he is able to keep buoyant, if not rousing. Doug Liman is also able to get the very best out of his leading man, too, as Aaron Taylor Johnson makes you feel, live, and breath every single moment of his pain, either through a grimace, scream, or when he opens up about his past. You also really just want to lean into the screen and give him a nice refreshing glass of water and a cloth to wipe his face.
Sure, Aaron Taylor Johnson is supreme, and there's a hint of Doug Liman's well-known capabilities behind the camera, but The Wall just isn't substantial enough to stand up on its own. The Wall does have a neat and surprising ending that's succinct and impactful, but that doesn't forgive its meandering middle that fails to augment its premise and ultimately means that it doesn't have the foundations to make any sort of lasting impression.