To describe The Wall as a war film does not quite do it justice. It is, but it is not an action show that many audiences were expecting.
The date is 2007. Information is given that the war in Iraq is winding down, that George Bush had declared victory. An explanation is given that outside companies have been brought in to reconstruct Iraq but that they are set upon and personnel and security killed by insurgents, with the need for the American military to remain present in the country.
The film is of interest with the 2017 perspective on 2007 given the subsequent history of Iraq, conflict in Middle Eastern countries.
The film has a very short running time, 88 minutes. It has two American soldiers as characters and one insurgent sniper who is not seen but whose voice is heard.
The film action takes place over two days, the two Americans with camouflage in scrub in the desert, observing the aftermath of a massacre of security and working personnel, the bodies still lying in the sun, the vehicles abandoned. We know practically nothing about the two Americans – although, the central character, Isaac (Aaron Taylor Johnson) does have some moments in a verbal flashback which has its tragic revelations and consequences.
The two Americans compare notes, one deciding to go out and check what has happened – with dire results.
The Wall of the title has been built of local bricks, part of it has been demolished by gunfire, and the rest is in a fairly dilapidated state, yet providing some shelter for Isaac, though a target for further demolition by the unseen but heard Juba, who fires at the wall making it more difficult for Isaac to shelter.
Isaac is stranded, night and another day, Isaac trying to use his wits to survive, trying to communicate to headquarters but finding that Juba is on the other end of the line, leading to interactions, discussions, taunts, psychological pressure, and quotations from Edgar Alan Poe.
In watching the film, the audience, uncertain as to how it will eventuate, on side with the stranded American, wondering whether there will be a final charge by the cavalry to rescue him, it is something of an endurance despite its short running time.
The audience will leave the theatre in something of a grim mood, much more conscious in 2017 of the complexities of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the lack of traditional warfare as might be remembered or is in the movies from World War II, questioning the involvement of American overseas troops and yet the continued puzzles of how situations can be bettered.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting