The Wall Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli. Directed by Doug Liman. Rated R. Opens Friday in select theaters.
Although it opens with a pointed bit of onscreen text about the declared “end” of the Iraq war in 2007, military drama The Wall is less about social commentary than it is about visceral, sometimes cheap thrills. With its single location and its focus almost entirely on a single onscreen character, it resembles minimalist thrillers like Phone Booth and Buried, as a seemingly innocent protagonist is taunted by an unseen menace.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson isn’t always compelling enough to carry the entire movie as Sgt. Allen “Eyes” Isaac, an American military spotter in Iraq who finds himself pinned down behind a crumbling wall at a desolate construction site, while an Iraqi sniper (voiced by Laith Nakli) takes over his radio frequency and starts messing with his head. Although Isaac and his unnamed foe engage in a few philosophical discussions about the motivations for the war, the filmmakers aren’t really interested in a detailed political critique. Isaac is a salt-of-the-earth American with a tragic incident in his past, and the Iraqi sniper becomes a cartoonish horror-movie villain, seemingly omniscient and invincible.
Director Doug Liman stages a few suspenseful moments as Isaac attempts to call for help, but the movie is mostly a dialogue between two characters who never progress beyond one-dimensional. The nihilistic ending resembles something out of a Saw movie, a final stinger that removes all compassion and complexity from the central relationship.