After the bombastic bluster of his previous outings, director Doug Liman (Mr & Mrs Smith, Jumper) has dialled things back to create a svelte psychological war thriller that is surprisingly good. It certainly suggests that Liman should investigate this introspective and minimalist brand of film-making more.
This compressed thriller thrives on its simplicity. It’s 2007, and the war in Iraq is coming to an end. Two American soldiers scope the scene of a possible sniper attack on an Iraqi oil line, but when Matthews (John Cena) gets shot and Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) finds himself pinned down behind the titular wall, a deadly game of cat and mouse begins.
The plot follows a well-trodden path, but Liman thankfully avoids oversimplifying his archetypal characters. It is perhaps no surprise that the antagonist is a chatty sniper who likes to keep communication lines open between himself and Isaac’s radio. Together the two serve and volley semantics, and the occasional bullet. But the conversation also allows us to get to know each character.
The irony of a simple story set against the backdrop of what was a complex war is further enhanced by cinematographer Roman Vasyanov, whose crystal clear vision with the camera keeps things within the bounds of the film’s modus operandi. Vasyanov is no stranger to filming war settings, but here the action is vacuum-packed and presented with a still camera that is predominantly locked in place, like a sniper rifle, offering only tilts and pans, rather than your usual handheld chaos.
The film is further held together by Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s (Nocturnal Animals) performance. Centre of frame for the majority of the movie, Taylor-Johnson gives a convincing performance that expresses a decidedly human side to his character.
Liman has provided a good example of how directorial restraint can be more provocative than the blustering noise of his previous outings. In its quietness, The Wall is a tense experience that is well worth wearing out the edge of your seat for.