Published May 12, 2017Doug Liman was an underrated director for the first bit of the millennium, with most of his movies (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity) occupying the same slots as Sunday afternoon TV schlock and in-flight entertainment. All that changed with the release of Edge of Tomorrow in 2014: Suddenly, critics were singing his praise, totally confused why more moviegoers weren't flocking to see the Tom Cruise-starring sci-fi action-adventure in theatres.
A sequel to the multi-million dollar cinematic spectacle was announced earlier this year, but first Liman is returning to the director's chair with The Wall, a psychological war thriller set in a single location and made on a modest budget starring WWE superstar John Cena, Kick-Ass's Aaron Taylor-Johnson and 24: Legacy's Laith Nakli.
Set midway through the Iraq war, the film follows a pair of American soldiers tasked with investigating a construction site in the middle of the desert after learning that its workers, and their security personnel, were mysteriously murdered while on the job. Soon, they find themselves struck down by a sniper hidden in plain sight and become part of a deadly cat and mouse game, with only a crumbling wall and the shooter's ego separating them from life and death. With little water, no food, a broken radio and blood gushing out of their bodies, it's up to them to outwit and outlast their tormentor.
Based on a script by Dwain Worrell that landed itself on the Hollywood black list — which annually ranks Hollywood's best-unproduced screenplays — back in 2014, The Wall is the kind of film that probably looked good on paper when Clint Eastwood's like-minded American Sniper was riding high at the box office, but doesn't work so well in reality.
With the shooter never being seen and the film's main characters immobilized just minutes into the movie, The Wall is forced to rely heavily on exposition. But what's said never really amounts to much, with Taylor-Johnson alternating between caterwauls and military jargon, Nakli spitting poetic crap about Edgar Allan Poe and his character's past as a schoolteacher (and why he decided to take up arms and become an unstoppable killer) and Cena not saying much of anything at all.
As the movie unfolds, Worrell tries to amp up the character development, revealing that Taylor-Johnson's Isaac opted for a second tour due to the death of a soldier and the role he played in it. It's a scene meant to ratchet up the tension before things come to a head in the fifth act. Instead, it's just another reminder of how shoddy a foundation the whole film is built on.