America is going to hate this movie. Doug Liman's The Wall is a mean little thriller set in our desert wars, and its only American soldiers are a dope and a weaselly atheist with a secret. These two spend most of the running time under fire, pinned down and outfoxed, their occasional efforts at movie-style heroism only making things worse. We never see their lives back home or photos of their sweethearts, never hear a word about what they're fighting for. And I defy you to spot one American flag.
When our boys' tormentor, a sniper hiding someplace in a remote Iraqi construction site, asks Isaac (a grimed-over Aaron Taylor-Johnson) why he's in country, our hero can't think of an answer, not even a quip about kicking ass or leaving no man behind. Liman (Edge of Tomorrow, The Bourne Identity) builds to a grim climax that his movie can't afford to show you -- not that seeing it would salve our annoyance at what it actually depicts.
Isaac speaks like a real dude, pants like a real dude, grates on the nerves like a real dude. Taylor-Johnson honors real dudeness by daring never to be any more arresting a presence than any real dude would be while hunkered down and bleeding in the sand behind a crumbling stone wall. We're not encouraged to like Isaac; only a final-act backstory revelation allows us to find him compelling. Liman, for all his action, struggles to make holing up exciting, though, between the colloquies between killer and soldier, he manages some tense sequences.