THIS minimalist shot of modern wartime cinema from director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow) follows two Iraq War soldiers, Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Matthews (wrestler-turned-actor John Cena), who get pinned down while on assignment by a ruthless enemy sniper known to them as Juba (Laith Nakli).

When Matthews is wounded and lies bleeding out in the open, Isaac takes refuge behind a small, very unsteady brick wall kept firmly in his enemy’s sights. It then becomes a game of wits and survival as Isaac and Juba communicate via radio.

It’s an intriguingly fixed concept but one that the film never truly capitalises on in terms of absorbing drama or dynamic direction. It doesn’t make creative use of the restricted space, shot more as an in-field play of sorts but lacking the dramatic quality of nimble, truly tense dialogue to make it effective. For a film about expert snipers you’d think it would have more dramatic scope.

Loading article content

The politics of it – which it attempts to tackle as Isaac and Juba trade arguments and insults over the two-way radio – is disappointingly unsophisticated. The nature of terrorism and who exactly is the enemy in this Middle Eastern war is discussed at length by the two opposing men, but it never gets under the skin of these themes in any sort of compelling way. It’s certainly not going to raise the sort of debate this eternally difficult subject matter demands.

It benefits from a raw and believable performance from Taylor-Johnson as a soldier caught in an impossible, terrifying situation which even his expert training offers little to help. His committed performance sells the quandary more than anything else but he’s ill-served by thin characterisation – Isaac is the good American soldier just trying to get home, Juba is made out to be a sort of unstoppable supervillain with omnipotent precision – and a general feeling like we’ve seen this sort of thing done better before.

It often comes across like a modern day, more narrow-minded version of Enemy At The Gates by way of Clint Eastwood’s politically problematic but undoubtedly far tenser American Sniper, Kathryn Bigelow’s riveting Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker and even Joel Schumacher’s 2002 single-location thriller Phone Booth. But it lacks their power, nuance or resolute tautness.

It’s not without tense moments here and there – mainly when revelations of Juba’s mental one-upmanship rears their head just as Isaac thinks he’s figured out how to escape the situation – but not enough to justify even this modest running time.