Outside the Wire (2021)
★ / ★★★★
There is a lot going on in the sci-fi action “Outside the Wire,” but a strong case can be made that not much of value of happens. The reason is because the screenplay by Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale fails to hone in on the human element of their story, one that involves Ukraine being a war zone in 2036, artificial intelligence, cyborgs, terrorists, and a drone pilot with minimal field experience sent to the very battlefield he launches missiles toward. To say that this picture is mechanical and formulaic is generous; I go as far to say it vacillates between near utter boredom and a waste of film. Not one element it offers is memorable.
Anthony Mackie co-stars in this waste of an opportunity to make a genuine and objective statement about the United States’ role as “peacekeepers” between warring nations as a machine that takes on the appearance of a human. Leo is an android that feels pain, sadness, empathy, but the work never bothers go out of its way to explore the depth of what the character is truly capable of outside of his agility and super strength. When it is not busy laying out exposition through dead dull dialogue, it inundates us with loud and flat shootouts that run longer than they should. Mackie’s charm can only elevate the picture to a certain level; every time he is front and center, we are reminded how much of his talent is being wasted.
Although the android is feeling, he is not the heart of the picture. Instead, we see through the eyes of Lieutenant Thomas Harp (Damson Idris), the aforementioned drone pilot punished for disobeying direct orders that led to the demise of two Marines. Although there is always life in Idris eyes and he is able to emote when necessary, the script never gives him a chance to deliver upon his potential because Harp is written as a bland protagonist who always strives to do the right thing: one-dimensional, repetitive, and uninteresting. Combine this with the material’s lack of a defined fulcrum in terms of what warfare means as a concept, those who call the shots, and those on the ground, the mixture proves soporific. Who is the movie for?
It is not for those who have a penchant for war films. There is a glossy feel about it but not enough shots of dead and dying soldiers, of civilians suffering, of obliterated homes, of the true repercussions of war. In other words, it does not embody the horror of standout war pictures. It is not for sci-fi fans either. We are provided some neat special effects—robot soldiers, robot dogs—and visual effects, but these are not utilized in a way that creates a thoroughly captivating world. They function more as props, either something to laugh at when human soldiers abuse them or something to fear when activated to kill.
It seems director Mikael Håfström does not have a thorough understanding of how to extract entertainment value from an action film and make it his own. Having said that, I wished he had a hand on the screenplay because he penned and directed “Evil,” an effective examination of the effects and cycle of violence which focuses on teenage boys in a boarding school.
“Outside the Wire” is a miscalculation nearly every step of the way. I was going to write that perhaps it is an all right movie to allow to play in the background while doing chores. But on the second thought, this film is filled with empty noise. Consider how often our eardrums are pummeled with the busy-buzzing of the every day. Why not clean the house or apartment in silence? Enjoy the moment, enjoy the exercise, enjoy putting things in order. Because there is no enjoyment to be had from this hooey. Why was this made?