Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena
Directed By: Doug Liman
Plot: Two soldiers find themselves pinned down by an Iraqi sniper with only a wall to keep them alive.
What Works: I would say this could very well be a polarizing movie. I’m polarized just in my own opinions. There are some really good things to like here. This film is a showcase for Aaron Taylor Johnson’s acting talent, as he is in nearly every frame of the film. We never see the sniper’s face, and Cena is MIA for most of the film. This is one of those one location, somewhat real time films where one actor is pitted against something else. We’ve seen this before in films like Ryan Reynolds in a box in Buried, or Tom Hardy in a car in Locke. When done right, the film deserves a lot of praise. It’s hard to keep the tension going for 90 minutes with one actor. Johnson does some really fine work, and Doug Liman’s direction is really mostly on point. Also, in the scenes where we do get John Cena, he does some good work too. He’s come a long way as an actor, and I continue to be surprised and impressed by the work he puts out. He’s really following The Rock’s trajectory. Good for him. The suspense really does hold for most of the film.
What Doesn’t Work: The writing isn’t all that great. I’ve heard military folk have a lot of issues with the realism of this film, and how absurdly good a shot the Iraqi sniper is. I thought it was a bit silly that the sniper was so accurate that he could hit an antenna at his distance. I know very little about this, but based on the knowledge I’ve picked up from various movies, TV shows, and video games, I immediately assumed the Iraqi sniper was Hawkeye, and this was now a very weird Avengers spinoff pitting Hawkeye against Quicksilver. I’ll go ahead and just say what everyone is thinking when the movie is over… the ending sucks. It’s a very non-ending. It’s not that I was rooting either for or against Johnson, but rather the ending feels like it’s meant to not resolve the conflict. I hate ambiguous endings. They’re meant to satisfy both sides, however I would argue this particular ending does neither, and just ends up kinda ruining the whole film. There’s just so much to hate about the ending, and the logistics of it. I won’t go into it, because that’s basically the only reason to watch the film is to find out if Johnson makes it out or if he doesn’t. I won’t say either, I’ll just say the “how” of it all is stupid.
Final Word: A rather decent and interesting film is ruined by an ending meant to placate people, and not offend one side or the other. It’s left somewhat open to the imagination, without any resolution, and that kind of ending doesn’t work in this type of film. The best films that are like this, all have an ending that made a choice. You might hate that choice, but you can respect that the film went with a choice. The Wall doesn’t quite do that. Instead, it leaves it almost in the same way a film would leave a story if it was expecting a sequel, or a TV show would end an episode, expecting you to come back next week. Still, I have to lean somewhat into the positive angle here because Johnson’s performance is that good, and most of the film is really well directed by Liman. For an 85 minute movie, 80 minutes of it is good. 5 minutes of it is not. But those five minutes are kind of the whole point.
Final Grade: B-