The Wall review: Bro bantz and brutish action

Soldiers take on faceless foes in a deadly battle of wits in this taut war thriller

The Wall
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Director: Doug Liman
Cert: 15A
Genre: Action
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli
Running Time: 1 hr 28 mins

No Aristotelian unity is left behind in this taut, parsimonious, one-set war thriller, a Gulf War picture that, lumped together with Buried, makes for a pleasing, limited edition black-box subgenre.

In the days after "Operation Enduring Freedom", a US army staff sergeant (John Cena) and a sniper (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are left on overwatch in a remote corner of Iraq. Their seemingly deathly-dull mission, relieved only by bro bantz ("I'm hot as shit: my balls have melted into one fucking ball"), quickly goes awry when an unseen enemy shooter opens fire, leaving the soldiers with a man down, limited water supplies, and no way to radio back to base.

The unfortunate US marksman takes refuge behind the ruined titular structure, as the cool, collected voice of Juba (the voice of Laith Nakli), the Iraqi sniper, comes over the radio. A battle of wits – and occasionally gunfire – commences, as Juba probes, taunts, and quotes the poems of Robert Frost. Faceless foes are seldom so menacing or so learned.

Blackly comic

The Wall began as a spec script by newcomer Dwain Worrell (the screenwriter behind Netflix's much-maligned Iron Fist) and featured on the 2014 Black List of most highly rated un-produced screenplays. Working on his lowest budget since his 1996 breakthrough, Swingers, director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith, Edge of Tomorrow) mines this furious stand-off for sandy survivalist make-and-do and white-knuckle surprises. The dialogue ("We're not so different, you and I") can sound a little ripe, but the action is appropriately brutish and impeccably timed.


Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov reworks the rough and ready aesthetic he brought to End of Watch with great success. Taylor-Johnson effortlessly transitions from casual locker-room exchanges to exasperation and, finally, desperation. And the blackly comic denouement is pure devilment.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic