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An Iraqi Sniper Traps Two U.S. Soldiers In 'The Wall'


War movies don't get much smaller than "The Wall." It's from the director who made the first "Bourne" movie, and this new film is stripped to absolute essentials - men, guns, desert. Critic Bob Mondello says as small as it is, "The Wall" will loom large in your memory.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Two American soldiers have been staring for 20 hours at a scene of carnage in the desert, flat on their bellies, hidden behind some brush. Isaac and Matthews can see eight corpses - an oil pipeline crew apparently picked off by an Iraqi sniper.


JOHN CENA: (As Matthews) Hit and run - whoever he is, he's gone.

AARON TAYLOR-JOHNSON: (As Isaac) Unless he's a pro.

CENA: (As Matthews) We've got no movement, not a sign of a shadow. I'm going down there, and that's it.

MONDELLO: Matthews takes a breath and stands up. Nothing, so he works his way down to the bodies a few hundred feet away.


CENA: (As Matthews) Something's not right.

MONDELLO: There's a garbage pile on one side, excavation equipment, a shed.


TAYLOR-JOHNSON: (As Isaac) What? Talk to me, man. Talk to me. What's going on down there?

MONDELLO: Also a low stone wall on the left.


TAYLOR-JOHNSON: (As Isaac) You know what? Get the hell out of there, bro.

CENA: (As Matthews) Hey, Ise (ph), just check that the - oh.


MONDELLO: Matthews falls, and Isaac tears down the hill toward him.


CENA: (As Matthews) I'm hit.

TAYLOR-JOHNSON: (As Isaac) Coming, man.

MONDELLO: And then Isaac's hit. One leg useless, he scrambles for cover, dragging himself behind that crumbling stone wall, not really sure if that exposes or hides him. Apparently, it hides him. The shots stop. But now what? In the first "Bourne" movie, director Doug Liman had a budget for stars and stunts. Here, he's working lighter - just two actors and a wall. But with Dwain Worrell's screenplay ratcheting tension tighter than the tourniquet Isaac has to fashion for his leg, two actors and a wall is plenty.


TAYLOR-JOHNSON: (As Isaac) Two, three, four, five. I know where you are now.

MONDELLO: Worrell's script had been on what's called the black list, which is a good thing in Hollywood these days. It's a list of the best unproduced screenplays that are up for option each year. But it made the list the year that Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper" hit screens, and two movies centering on snipers apparently seemed a bit much.

Happily, this one attracted Liman not for its pyrotechnics but as a psychological thriller, and he sure piles on the psych-outs - Aaron Taylor-Johnson's wounded Isaac huddling by that crumbling wall, struggling with shot-up communications gear.


TAYLOR-JOHNSON: (As Isaac) We got a sniper, high-caliber weapon. Requesting extraction.

LAITH NAKLI: (As Juba) Sergeant, I need your exact location.

TAYLOR-JOHNSON: (As Isaac) Say that again.

NAKLI: (As Juba, unintelligible).

TAYLOR-JOHNSON: (As Isaac) You've got an accent - not American.

MONDELLO: Minimalist the way a Samuel Beckett play is minimalist, "The Wall" is 81 minutes of bare-bones strategy and questions. Where is the sniper? Who is the sniper? Will Isaac's training pull him through? What is the endgame? The filmmakers keep you guessing right up to the final credits. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIA KENT SONG, "INTENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.