‘The Wall’ makes the most of its all too brief 81 minute running time

John Cena and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in ‘The Wall’

“The only real power comes out of a long rifle” – Joseph Stalin

“The most deadly thing on a battlefield is one well-aimed shot” – Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock

 Director Doug Liman gives us The Wall starring  Aaron Taylor-Johnson ( Kick-Ass 2), John Cena,(Trainwreck, Sisters) and Laith Nakli (Amira & Sam).  The titular wall refers to a shaky wall that is part of a construction site in an apparently remote area of Iraq.

The film opens with US Army Staff Sergeant “Shane Matthews” (Cena), a sniper and his spotter, Sergeant “Allen Isaac” observing the death and destruction that took place at the construction site.  Bodies litter the landscape and the due watches the scene from their well-hidden vantage point for more than 20 hours.

Concluding that whoever caused the scene before them has departed, Matthews begins walking down to the site, to collect information and recover a radio.  Before he gets there, shots ring out from another sniper.  Matthews is hit and goes down.  Throwing caution to the winds, Isaac tries to pull his buddy to safety but becomes a target himself and seeks refuge behind the wall.  Short of water and unable to communicate with anyone but Matthews, Isaac is completely isolated.

Except that an unfamiliar voice responds to a call from Isaac on the radio.  Eventually he reveals that he is the sniper who shot Matthews and that he plans to kill Isaac.  “Juba” (Nakli) knows everything about Isaac’s situation and says he will refrain from killing Matthews as long as Isaac will talk to him on the radio.

Read our look at Snipers in other films

This becomes a duel between cat and mouse and while Isaac knows that someone will come looking for him and Matthews, the question is can he hold out until then  Can he find a way to discern where Juba is hiding and take him out himself?  Can he warn the rescuers they are almost certainly the next targets of Juba?

While there are brief, intense action sequences in The Wall, this is not an action film.  It is a psychological thriller from someone very adept in this genre.  Tension abounds.  John Cena, who has proven himself in action films and comedies has a very minimal role.  Then again where there are only three actors on screen (the rescue team members have a few, unimportant lines), everyone is important.  We never see “Juba” but his words say much more than any glimpse of him might have.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson in ‘The Wall’

What really makes The Wall work is the riveting performance of Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  We learn a lot about “Sergeant Isaac” from his discussions from Juba via the radio.  There is a very dark secret behind the reason he now works exclusively as spotter rather than switching off to the sniper position as is the norm for this type of two-person team.

There is a bit of a stage-play feel to the setting, since it takes place in a relatively confined location and yet Liman uses every inch of the frame.  Anytime a movie has a run time of under 90 minutes, one must worry that something is missing, or there just isn’t enough of a story to be a full-length movie.  The Wall is only 81 minutes long but it packs a lot into that all too brief run time.  It is well worth the price of admission.

[imdb id = tt4218696]

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