Outside the Wire is another in a slew of mediocre action films that make up most of the Netflix library. There was a better anti-war film hidden underneath the rubble but this is all Håfström could dig up.
Outside the Wire is set 25 years in the future. In 2036, a civil war has broken out in Eastern Europe involving the Russians and Ukrainians. US troops have been deployed as peacekeeping forces in the area. The US has recently also made great leaps in their weapons research as the peacekeeping forces now consist of robotic soldiers called Gumps.
Outside the Wire follows a US drone pilot, Thomas Harp (Damson Idris), who is reassigned to ground forces when he disobeys a direct order from his superiors and dispassionately launches a strike that kills two US soldiers but saves 38 other soldiers on the ground.
The disgraced drone pilot finds a mentor in Leo (Anthony Mackie), his commanding officer on his new assignment. He soon finds out that Leo is in fact a sentient android developed by the US military in secret and that he was personally chosen by Leo to assist him.
Together, Leo and Harp enter the war zone to try to find Victor Koval, an aspiring dictator and the cause of all the violence, to stop a nuclear war.
Outside the Wire is more focussed on the story and action than the characters and hence characters are mere instruments of the story. The actors don’t have the opportunity to display the depth of their characters.
That being said, Anthony Mackie holds the film together as this more-human-than-humans android, Leo. He is smart, funny, likeable and has interesting viewpoints throughout the film. The film only holds the audience’s attention when Mackie is on screen. Unfortunately, he is brought on the screen quite a few minutes late.
Damson Idris is disposable as Harp. He is a cold, arrogant but talented drone pilot when the film begins and follows a highly predictable character arc. He is not bad by any means but he doesn’t give a performance worthy of being the main character in the film.
Emily Beecham is an excellent addition to the film. She plays Sofiya, Leo’s informer and manages an orphanage from the money she earns from illegal arms dealing. She is a breath of fresh air and her impulsivity shakes up the film for good. Outside the wire could have used more of her.
What made Outside the Wire, mediocre and not terrible, is its themes. The film, directed by Mikael Håfström, tries to explore several themes at once through the character of Leo. From the cost of being African American to existential questions like what it means to be human.
But the primary focus of the film is on the use of modern technology, like drones, in wars which makes soldiers like Harp indifferent to their impact on the lives they affect with the click of a button. It is no coincidence that the film felt like a video game at several moments, right from its titles and stylistic choices to its cinematography.
The third act of the film is easily as good as the film gets. It is very well-paced, with adequate tension and an ethical dilemma at the centre of it all.
The characters haven’t been etched out very well but at least, the film doesn’t paint them black and white. Almost all the characters are grey.
A film with lost potential is more disappointing than an awful film. This is what makes Outside the Wire unsatisfactory. The film had excellent themes and actors who had the skill to execute them all, but regrettably, the film followed a generic action movie plot.
The writers of the film, Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale, state the themes in lazy expository dialogues and do not weave it in the story. The story, instead, is more focussed on cliched Russian villains, henchmen and nuclear codes.
The action is shot in a disorienting fashion and the editing by Rickard Krantz is dizzying. With a cut, almost every second, watching Outside the Wire is an arduous task. The drab colour palette with low lighting and below-average CGI does not help the film.
The pacing of the film is also off. It seems to rush all the time but it is still a painfully long watch at a runtime of 115 minutes.
The core of Outside the Wire is underdeveloped, so are the characters and the story itself. The film bets everything on its action and Anthony Mackie. The action is, by far, the worst part of the film and Anthony Mackie, the best.
Outside the Wire is an underwhelming watch that might only fly with some fans of the Falcon.