The 400-Word Review: The Wall

By Sean Collier

May 15, 2017

Looks... Oh, it's John Cena? Closes window.

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We’ve reached a threshold with regards to contemporary war films. A decade ago, movies about military men and women that took place in the Middle East were inevitably a commentary on the war or geopolitical circumstances; war movies set in the modern day were movies about the war, this war, always with loud, clear commentary.

That has changed.

The ongoing presence of western forces in nations including (but by no means limited to) Iraq and Afghanistan has changed such a milieu from aberration to normal circumstance. In 2004, the topic of a film could be, “There are American soldiers in Afghanistan,” for that was subject enough; it was a new reality. In 2017, there are American soldiers in Afghanistan, just as there are politicians in Washington and vacationers in Hawaii. For teenagers entering high school, this has never not been the case.

(The way that movie narratives have shifted accordingly is, roughly, the least important result of this, but it’s what I’m here to write about.)

For better or worse, then, we now can watch “war movies” that have nothing to say — or very little to say — about politics and warcraft. This week’s example: The Wall, a tense action thriller which just so happens to be about American soldiers in Iraq.

Contractors have been killed by a sniper, and Staff Sgt. Shane Matthews (John Cena) and Sgt. Allen Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) have been sent to see if the attacker is still in the area. After nearly a day of observation, things look quiet; Matthews heads for the site of the attack.


He is then promptly shot by the sniper, who has been lying in wait the whole time.

Isaac rushes to his aid, but is forced to take cover behind a few feet of wall. As he attempts to radio for help, he has an unorthodox conversation with the person on the other end of the transmission — leading to a chilling revelation.

Cena’s performance is strong, if simple, adding credence to his viability in film. Taylor-Johnson’s, however, borders on remarkable; it is easily the strongest of his career to date. Director Doug Liman again demonstrates that he’s an inventive filmmaker with an eye for tension (when he’s kept away from Jason Bourne).

Whether you want a small thriller, rather than a grand statement, in a military movie is your call. For the interested, though, there’s something here.

My Rating: 7/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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