As The Wall opens, Sgt. Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Sgt. Matthews (John Cena), two soldiers serving during what’s supposed to be the final days of the Iraq War in 2007, are bored. Camouflaged and perched high above the scene of a skirmish that’s left eight contractors working on a pipeline dead in the middle of the desert, they try to determine just what took them down while concluding they’re both sure — or sure enough — that who ever killed them is gone. Barring some kind of “super sniper,” it’s obviously the work of some long-departed enemy fighters. After a long stretch spent observing the scene and teasing each other, they’re ready to complete the mission, confirm their theory, and head out. So, after trading some nervous jokes, Matthews decides to investigate. Then he sees that body after body has been taken out by a headshot. Then the bullets start to fly from some unseen location and he’s hit, immobilized, and possibly killed, leaving only Issac to figure out what the hell is going on.
It’s a tense opening for a film that has a hard time keeping out the same level of intensity, though one that deserve a lot of credit for depicting the war from such a limited perspective that it forces viewers to consider what it’s like to be in Isaac’s boots. Rather than attempt a sweeping depiction of the war experience, it zeroes in on a few awful hours in the lives of a pair of soldiers already rattled by the dangers they’ve run into before — situations that pale next to the one they find themselves in now. Then, to make matters worse, Isaac finds himself wounded, pinned in behind a wall, and in a radio conversation with the unseen sniper, a famed insurgent known only as Juba (Laith Nakli).