Synopsis – In the near future, a drone pilot sent into a war zone finds himself paired with a top-secret android officer on a mission to stop a nuclear attack.
My Take – Right from its first look the stark and gritty design of Netflix‘s latest high-concept action flick seemed to bare the hallmarks of popular sci fi titles like Children of Men and Edge of Tomorrow, and add to that a sci-fi concept right out of Black Mirror blended with some brutal, highly-choreographed fight sequences, it looked like the streaming giant had another winner on its hands.
Director Mikael Håfström (Escape Plan, Derailed) too has a load of generic genre offerings under his belt, proving that he could helm an amusingly watchable shoot-’em-up with a slightly meaningful plot effortlessly. And while the film is nicely paced, well-choreographed and avoids any narrative lulls by knowing precisely when to ramp up the action, it unfortunately crumbles under its own sociopolitical weight.
It asks a few interesting questions, but never really troubles itself trying to come up with the answers. Instead it prefers to drops those all those ideas and questions in favor of familiar twists and turns until it ends up becoming the equivalent of yet another exhausted Terminator entry.
Hereby making this film, one of those Netflix entries, while perfectly serviceable, never venture beyond their genre perimeter.
Set in the year 2036, where the Eastern Europe has found itself in the grips of a civil war, forcing the United States military to intervene as peacekeepers leaving much of the region destroyed, and its people are starving. The story follows Lt. Thomas Harp (Damson Idris), a cocky drone pilot who finds himself in trouble when he disobeys a direct order out of the belief that he is right about an impending threat, leading to the death of two young soldiers on field.
Instead of being charged with insubordination, he is deployed to Camp Nathaniel, the volatile demilitarized zone where he is to serve beneath Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), a highly classified android military officer. Immediately deployed with Leo to deliver a vaccine in a dangerous zone, Harp learns that Leo’s actual mission is to find a ghost – Victor Koval (Pilou Asbæk), a ruthless war monger who wants to make Ukraine a part of Russia, and has received support from the Kremlin to wage his terrorist attacks and enlist others to his cause.
However according to Leo’s sources Victor’s actual plan is to gain access to the nuclear weapons Russia has left over from the Cold War, and attack the U.S., leaving the two to use all resources at disposal to find him before time runs out.
In concept, the film could have been a fascinatingly spin on the genre, an altogether different take on the standard military action thriller, but Swedish director Mikael Håfström opts for the safe, spectacular path instead. Though it borrows a great deal from other films, screenwriters Rowan Athale and Rob Yescombe struggles to do much outside of those influences.
One of the dominant themes woven throughout the film is the nature of modern warfare and the lack of humanity when decisions are made from the safety of home-soil. And while that is, indeed, a powerful issue, director Mikael Håfström also fails to attach the moral dilemma and consequence of such actions.
Frustrating also is the fact that there is a real sense of the filmmakers wanting to discuss something meaningful, yet the opportunities are never seized. Here, the film has plenty of sci-fi content, but it seems extremely disinterested in actually exploring those ideas to their fullest. Instead, it is a vehicle for more standard military action fare and an overly plotted story.
Though there are discussions about humanity and how it relates to the idea of war, the film treats those facets as stepping stones to action and video game plot beats. It never stops for long enough to reckon with some of the stimulating philosophical questions it’s posing. Instead its philosophies regarding military conflict don’t much extend beyond the fact that drones are bad.
While the designs of the robot soldiers or ‘Gumps’ are a welcome addition, it doesn’t help, that the script constantly toys with the understanding of Leo’s motivations. Leo is a ruthless killing machine but with an anti-war stance. He is designed to win hearts and minds, but is also capable of shockingly efficient bouts of violence. He’s seemingly loyal to the mission of stopping the bad guys, but will also go off-script to torture some folks, or collaborate with a resistance leader called Sofiya (Emily Beecham) to accomplish his objectives. Leo’s programmed to feel emotion, and explicitly says he was given a Black face as it conveys neutrality.
Performance wise, Anthony Mackie actually does a great job of mixing charisma and menace, while steps into his commanding role with confidence, that poise no doubt helped by his long-running part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He is comfortable in the action sequences and delivers a headstrong performance.
Damson Idris, to his credit, has a winsome presence once the exposition-heavier first act ends and he is allowed to loosen up a bit. He is being asked to do a very rote and tired role – the rookie that has to survive his first real day in action, but he sells it as best as anyone could. In supporting roles, Emily Beecham, Michael Kelly and Pilou Asbæk are alright in thankless roles. On the whole, ‘Outside the Wire’ is a gritty and chaotic action flick letdown by the messy handling of its themes.
Directed – Mikael Håfström
Rated – R
Run Time – 114 minutes