Review by Jason Godbey, Creative Director, Behind the Rabbit Productions
Outside The Wire is a sci-fi/action movie set in the not-too-distant future during a civil war in Eastern Europe. It stars Anthony Mackie as Leo, an android super soldier with an attitude, and Damson Idris as Lt. Harp, a drone pilot who after breaking the chain of command is assigned to Mackie’s unit as punishment for his misdeeds. That’s the premise of this Netflix feature that feels like it’s part war movie, part spy thriller, part video game, part every-cyborg-super-soldier movie you’ve ever seen, and Training Day all rolled into one. It’s an intriguing film that will raise all sorts of questions for audiences. Questions like: “wait, what happened? Why would he do that?” and “have I seen this before?”
The plot and characters of Outside the Wire are pretty stock. We have the brash young officer who needs to learn a lesson about the horrors of war. He’s a fish out of water/audience surrogate who must have everything about the war explained to him for our benefit even though he’s been flying missions in the war for some time before we meet him.
The characterization of Leo is confusing to say the least. He’s some kind of android, yet he looks human, feels pain, has emotions, and a giant chip on his shoulder. He also seems to have protocols that make him obey humans but also allow him to disobey them. He’s stronger and faster than a human being, and he kicks a fair amount of ass in the film, kicking, punching, and shooting his way through the movie like the hero in a first person shooter game. Mackie portrays all of the above by strutting around as if he’s wearing a sign that says, “Back off! Total badass coming through.” And then he winks and smiles to remind us of how charismatic he is.
Sometimes he behaves as if he’s completely human, like when he’s teasing Harp about his relationship back home, and other times he’s just action-robot-man, shooting a grenade in midair to blow up an enemy robot. It’s hard to decide whether or not we want to root for this guy, and he seems rather cryptic about his allegiance throughout the film, leaving us to think, “is he right or is he just playing Harp (no pun intended) to get what he needs?” Also, why does he want anything if he’s a machine? Was he programmed to do that? The list of head-scratching questions goes on and on. In science fiction, there are often these little things that seem illogical or unbelievable, but this film has them to the point where it’s distracting. The result is an inconsistency that takes us out of the movie.
The dialogue is stilted and generic and sounds like it was written by a 13-year-old who’s seen a bunch of war movies and is really good at Call of Duty. The rest of the ensemble doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but they all fare pretty well despite the script not helping them at all. Make no mistake, this is the Anthony Mackie show.
Idris often has a confused look on his face when he’s talking to Mackie, probably because he is bewildered by the convoluted logic of the script. Other times he seems to be a stock character who knows he’s supposed to do action stuff in an action movie. Idris also suffers from having most of his scenes with Mackie, who seems to take up the entire screen even when he’s in a two-shot.
Much of the dialogue is expository but still doesn’t really explain the rules of the future in which the movie is set. There are some elements of spy thriller and wartime intrigue, but all the motivations are muddled. There’s a villain who wants to get hold of nuclear codes to blow up the world presumably but we never understand his plan or his motivation. Pilou Asbæk plays Victor Koval, the bad guy who wants to blow up the world. He doesn’t get much screen time unfortunately, except for a brief scene with Mackie in which he seems to be auditioning to be the next Bond villain.
Director Mikael Håfström does a decent job with the action, although there are times we lose track of where the characters are, and the quick-cut editing seems to be overcompensating for the choreography. At the end of the day, we’ve seen this film a million times, a series of action set-pieces strung together by character beats and plot points. It’s supposed to be a good time, one of those turn-off-your-brain-and-have-fun movies, but unfortunately Outside the Wire is just another forgettable action movie on your Netflix queue that should have been better given the time, talent, and money put into it.