The latest movie about America’s tragic, never-ending war in the Middle East is ‘The Wall,’ a low-budget affair directed by Doug Liman (‘The Bourne Identity,’ ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith,’ ‘Edge of Tomorrow’). With a mere budget of $3 million and a cast of two, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and WWE superstar John Cena, ‘The Wall’ is at first glance intriguing but ultimately an unsatisfying war movie that takes a lo-fi minimalist approach.
Johnson and Cena play sergeants Allen Isaac and Shane Matthews, a US Army sniper team sent to investigate a pipeline construction site that’s “gone dark” in the middle-of-nowhere desert wasteland of post-war Iraq. After patiently observing the now quiet kill zone where the private contractors were killed for nearly 24 hours, the pair broke cover in order to recover equipment only to find themselves pinned down by an unseen enemy, a cunning and ruthless Iraqi sniper who takes particular pleasure in playing mind games with his hapless victims (namely Isaac). The only thing separating Isaac and his sadistic never-seen adversary is a length of crumbling brick wall, which provides the setting for virtually the film’s entire length.
Even though I’m as much a fan of do-or-die cat-and-mouse sniper duels as anyone (I thought ‘Enemy at the Gates’ was good and enjoyed ‘American Sniper’ despite its blatant rah-rah jingoism), ‘The Wall’ just didn’t hold my attention or interest long enough. In the wake of his bravura performance in ‘Nocturnal Animals,’ Johnson proved once again that he can act (although Cena was pretty much a non-factor after he ran out and got shot), but the movie’s limited by an overly thin and sparse script that would have trouble holding our attention for 60 minutes, much less its 81-minute running time.