Largely alone onscreen for most of the 81-minute running time of the tight new psychological thriller The Wall, Aaron Taylor-Johnson dominates this engrossing and challenging work that grown-up audiences just might want to choose over King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Snatched this weekend.
As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), director Doug Liman — who helmed such big action pictures as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow — has scaled it down quite a few notches in this story of two Army soldiers who come upon a tragic scene in the Iraq desert shortly after the war has ended and where only a rickety stone wall separates them from an unseen sharpshooter who apparently is still in the fight. Several bodies lay lifeless in the dusty terrain where Army Ranger Shane Matthews (John Cena), accompanied by spotter Alan Isaac (Taylor-Johnson) have just arrived. At first the place seems like a ghost town, with no sign of life, then Matthews decides to move closer to investigate. That’s when he gets shot by the mystery marksman and lay wounded in the middle of it all.
Panicking a bit at first, Isaac fortifies himself behind the unsteady wall and tries to figure out how to get to Matthews without getting shot himself — no easy task as it turns out. This all develops into a cat-and-mouse game between Isaac, whose radio isn’t even working, and the unseen shooter on the other side who begins to play psychological games with him. The bulk of the film’s running time is devoted to this showdown between the two as Isaac uses every method he can to survive a perilous situation.
The Dwain Worrell script, which made the 2014 Black List, is taut and sparing and perfectly pitched for an actor of Taylor-Johnson’s strong talents. The star — who increasingly has proven himself to be one of his generation’s finest actors, winning a Golden Globe this year for his riveting work in Nocturnal Animals — is simply mesmerizing to watch in this virtual one-man show where he is almost never offscreen. It is so intense throughout that you might find yourself on the edge of your seat as the battle of wits and wills between Isaac and his enemy ratchets up and up. Cena has far less to do but effectively steps up to the plate in the film’s early scenes. Laith Nakli is the unseen voice of on the other side.
Liman almost could have staged this whole thing as a play and seen it work, but his cinematic instincts are in full bloom here, and he’s aided by a top-notch production team. Still this is Taylor-Johnson’s show, and he delivers 100%. David Bartis is the producer of the Amazon Studios film, which is being distributed by Roadside Attractions.
Do you plan to see The Wall? Let us know what you think.