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OUTSIDE THE WIRE (2021) review

January 16, 2021


written by: Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale
produced by: Rory Aitken, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Ildiko Kemeny, Anthony Mackie, Ben Pugh, Jason Spire & Erica Steinberg
directed by: Mikael Hafstrom
rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout)
runtime: 114 min.
U.S. release date: January 15, 2021 (Netflix)


It was recently announced that Netflix will be releasing a new movie every week in 2021, but I’m betting that’s just a small fraction of what will be coming out of the streaming giant this year. No doubt their aim will be to offer variety, but also aim to target certain genres as well. “Outside the Wire” is the kind of movie that scratches the itch viewers might have for “an action movie”, while adding a bit more to kind of stand out. While the action is aplenty, director Mikael Hafstrom (“Escape Plan” and “The Rite”) with screenwriters by Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale, place the story in a sci-fi future with the focus the terror of technology on the war front, be it drones or cyborgs. The overall message is muddled and lost amid a heavily reliance on action sequences, leaving little room for compelling characterization and ultimately making the story less interesting as it unravels.

Set in the near future of 2036, “Outside the Wire” primarily takes place in a precarious demilitarized zone in Eastern Europe in the aftermath of a civil war, where terrorist Victor Koval (Pilou Asbæk) is out to overtake the region. Back in the States, drone pilot Lt. Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) has been removed from duty after defying an order on a recent mission that cost lives. As punishment, he is transferred from Nevada to the Krazny border and ordered to assist Leo (Anthony Mackie) an android assigned to deliver vaccines to nearby villagers. Despite their personality and physical differences, the pair wind up navigating through war zones, battling both Korval’s soldiers and his Russian robotic soldiers. When they learn that Koval is going after launch codes for long-dormant nuclear missiles in an effort to destroy his enemies and who knows what else, Leo and Harp must work together to prevent global destruction.



A demoted drone pilot teaming up with a futuristic machine man could prove to be intriguing enough, but this movie adds robots. That’s right. In the future, heavily-armed metal soldiers known as “Gumps” fight alongside humans in an effort to lessen fatal risks on the battlefield. U.S. soldiers led by Col. Eckhart (Michael Kelly) use the robots in the DMZ, just as their opponents utilize their own tactical robots, but curiously enough there are robots appropriated to protect and engage (and even play) with children at the orphanage run by Leo’s British friend Sofiya (Emily Beecham) located in the war zone. Incorporating robots to work with humans outside of a weaponry capacity is curious yet unfortunately not explored here. In fact, the inclusion of robots here just seems like a way to add something cool and nothing more.

As “Outside the Wire” opens, it seems to potentially take on the moral dilemma of using drone technology. We’re first introduced to Harp, who sits in the virtual cockpit chomping on gummy bears with one hand while holding a wrapping his finger around a trigger with the other hand. In this opening scene, he must make a choice from the safety of his remote Nevada location: launch a missile at a possible enemy truck and kill two marines, or do nothing and endanger the remaining thirty-eight. He coldly refuses to stand down, a decision which drops him in the DMZ and in contact with Leo, someone that he may be required to evaluate.



For someone in the military who supposedly only has experience in remote piloting, Harp seems unaffected by being surrounded by actual soldiers, not to mention robots. But being in Leo’s presence increases his caution and curiosity. At first, he’s kind of perturbed by Leo, sizing up the lone soldier who has an affinity for vinyl, even before he learns this guy is mostly a super-powered cyborg. At the same time, Leo isn’t crazy about Harp being assigned to him, but goes along with it and eventually revealing his own ulterior motives. Along the way, the duo learn a few things about each other, like how Harp is engaged to be married to a sweetheart back home and how Leo is five years old. The problem is that during their banter, there’s never really anything said that would give us more of an idea of who these two are, like more of their backstory (yeah, I know Leo is an android, but was he rebuilt from an injured soldier or was his mind downloaded from someone at some point), leaving too many questions unanswered.

The movie also could’ve benefited from building up this terrorist Victor Koval a bit more. He’s almost forgotten by the time we get to him, and is taken out quite easily, almost like a level in a military video game. It’s too bad considering Asbæk is typically a charismatic presence in other movies (“A War” and “A Hijacking”) and television shows (“Game of Thrones”).



If all you’re craving for is an action flick, “Outside the Wire” will do just fine. It’s a movie that has some solid action sequences, some of which understandably utilize CGI with some hyper hard hits and abrupt bodily harm, but beyond that I found myself getting kind of bored and confused. The third act has this reveal of deception that I just wasn’t sold on or maybe at that point I just didn’t care.

It’s too bad “Outside the Wire” didn’t really address some underlying themes that seem to be there and instead Hafstrom and the writers have chosen to rely on some cool sci-fi action. There could be an interesting dialogue about the violent capabilities of humans, especially during war and how certain technologies take that violence even further while supposedly taking the human element out. That would potentially be veering into political or existential commentary, which is clearly not the mission of this movie.



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