The Wall is a tense two-person survival thriller set in a war zone

THE WALL (Doug Liman). 90 minutes. Opens Friday (May 12). See listing. Rating: NNN

Featuring just two actors for almost all of its running time, The Wall is a tense, no-bullshit survival thriller that just happens to take place inside of a war movie. 

Owing as much to the Ryan Reynolds one-man-show Buried and Joel Schumacher’s kitschy-clever Phone Booth as it does to any conventional battleground picture, this modestly produced effort from A-list director Doug Liman focuses entirely on American sniper Matthews (John Cena) and his spotter Eyes (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), pinned down by a sadistic gunman in Iraq.

Dwain Worrell’s script – set in 2007, shortly after the end of hostilities but before the arrival of smartphones – lays out its cat-and-mouse premise simply and effectively. The good guys walk into a trap almost immediately, and there they will stay unless something changes. The predator is at least as resourceful as his prey, and he’s definitely better equipped to deal with this situation.

The bulk of the drama rests on Eyes. Bleeding slowly from a critical knee wound, with limited provisions and minimal communications, he must figure out what’s happening and how to keep himself from becoming another tick on a killer’s expanding casualty list. And if Taylor-Johnson leans a little too hard on his good-old-boy accent, he otherwise makes a very convincing soldier. 

Liman, who’s spent the last decade and a half making studio actioners like The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Edge Of Tomorrow, clearly appreciates the chance to play at a smaller, more intimate scale. Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov’s unnerving combination of wide shots and extreme close-ups makes open space feel fraught with danger. 

So why just a moderate recommendation? Well, that’s because The Wall, um, collapses in the last 60 seconds, when Worrell goes for a frankly dopey genre pivot. It doesn’t totally invalidate the experience, but it definitely cheapens it.

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