Set in a sandy wasteland during the final days of the Iraq war in 2007, The Wall is a low-budget thriller that manages to be political and apolitical simultaneously. Unlike most war movies, The Wall is uninterested in preaching any kind of morality, whether it’s the necessity or calamity of war, and instead uses a fleeting 81 minutes to clench the viewer into a gripping will-he-or-won’t-he survival story.
The film has three characters: U.S. Army counter-sniping team Sergeant Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Staff Sergeant Matthews (WWE star John Cena) and a mysterious Iraqi sniper just waiting to ensnare them in his trap. Isaac and Matthews are the kind of bros whose exchanges with one another have devolved into homoerotic banter, swearing and dumb jokes about their genitalia. Even in 2017, the depiction of the stereotypical, hyper-masculine American soldier involves tedious moments of homophobia – suggesting that this somehow allows such characters to deal with the heavy physical and mental strains of their job.
After 20 hours of sweltering in the heat as camouflaged bushes, Isaac and Matthews decide to take a closer look at their assignment: a mysterious shootout of a pipeline construction project. From their distance, the soldiers have been able to suss out only sparse details about who shot whom with their sniper scope cameras. As soon as they get closer though, the Iraqi sniper deftly shoots them out, and a barely surviving Isaac manages to find shelter behind a short wall, the remains of an Iraqi school.
Isaac spends the rest of the movie using a busted radio to talk to “Juba” (Laith Nakli), a sadistic, U.S.-trained Iraqi insurgent who has successfully captured dozens of U.S. soldiers in his spider web. Lacking a radio connection, water and a functional knee, Isaac has few options other than bleeding out – precisely the death Juba planned for him.