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‘The Wall’ is a minimalist view of the gritty loneliness of war

“The Wall” is an example of bare-bones moviemaking. Dusty bare bones.

Set in a landscape littered with corpses, it’s a tale of a two-man Army sniper team (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena) that comes to grief in a desolate, wind-blown Iraqi desert.

It’s a team that’s very quickly reduced to one, as Cena’s character spends most of the picture face-down in the sand, badly wounded and bleeding out. That leaves Taylor-Johnson’s character, Sgt. Isaac, also severely wounded, huddled behind the tumbledown brick wall of the title, gasping and cursing and trying to get a fix on the hidden Iraqi sharpshooter who felled him and his comrade-in-arms.

The shooter, never seen, is nevertheless a prominent presence in the picture, mocking, questioning and threatening Isaac through the GI’s radio earpiece (Laith Nakli is the man with the voice). The radio has been shot up, and Isaac can’t use it to call for help.

The corpses are a group of U.S. pipeline contractors, killed by head shots fired by the Iraqi, testament to his lethal accuracy. The year is 2007, when President George W. Bush announced a limited withdrawal of American forces from the country. The shooter tells Isaac that from his perspective as “just a regular Iraqi man,” the war is far from over. He likens Iraq to the structure shielding Isaac from his bullets, “the wall your country came to knock down.”

“Why are you here?” he asks. “Why do you keep coming back?” The question hangs over the movie, unanswered.

Director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”), working from a script by Dwain Worrell, keeps things simple and unadorned (he doesn’t even use background music). He elects not to delve into the larger issues of what brought the U.S. to Iraq, instead keeping the focus on Isaac’s desperate struggle to survive. Taylor-Johnson’s agonized performance holds the audience’s attention, but his portrayal doesn’t really take the character anywhere. We learn little of his background. He’s lost and unmoored in that gritty hellscape, taunted and terrorized and trapped with seemingly no way out.

The Wall

out of 5

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli.

Director: Doug Liman.

Running time: 1:30.

Rated: R, for language throughout and some war violence.

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