We've already come across several Hollywood ventures exploring the military sci-fi genre including the likes of Edge of Tomorrow, I, Robot and Spectral. Netflix's new sci-fi action thriller, Outside The Wire is the latest entry in its range of stories dealing with overseas threats with advanced weaponry and robots in place of soldiers. The film's entire screenplay is engrossed with machine-gun battles, hardcore action sequences, and bullets flying all over the place. But the film conveys, or tries its best to convey, an emotion of a peaceful, war-free society, and deals with the consequences of wars and terror on innocent lives. The film's purpose is to serve an anti-war message while giving the intense thrill of lethal and destructive action experiences to the viewers. However, Outside The Wire doesn't quite do this.
Outside The Wire is set in the year 2036, focusing on a US military unit of soldiers and robots called Gumps, who are trying to bring an end to the ongoing civil war in the Eastern European territories of Ukraine and Russia. When a non-combatant drone pilot, Lt. Thomas Harp (Damson Idris), executes a missile strike against orders that kills two marines, he is sent to gain training experience in the field under Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie). Much to Harp's surprise, things start taking a different turn when Leo reveals he's a biotech android and starts acting against protocol. What follows is a secret mission Leo drags Harp into as Harp witnesses the horrors of war first hand, which takes a toll on his conscience.
Directed by Mikael Håfström, Outside The Wire tries to draw itself away from typical sci-fi military action films but does include elements from them in bits. The concept of having a destructive dystopian setting, a consequence of robot wars, gives off a Terminator: Salvation vibe, while Idris and Mackie will take you back to Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke's Training Day. Unfortunately, the blend of these elements creates a confusing and incomplete narrative, whose true purpose is to deal with the impact of war on "people" whom military records dub as "collateral damage". Outside The Wire delves into the consequences of war through Harp's eyes and mind, trying to persuade the audience about anti-war ideologies as Harp realises how his drone strikes, which he executed based on logical calculations without considering the emotional and psychological state of those on the ground, have distorted life and prosperity. And in doing so, it gets mixed up between dealing with Harp's personal state and the bigger picture it was supposed to address.
It impacts viewers with some great production design and setting, along with fine sound mixing and editing. But that's just what it has to give. Despite having strong performances from Mackie and Idris, the film falls short of grasping our attention throughout the complete run time. Talking of the performances, Idris leaves an impression for other filmmakers to notice and is definitely going to get some special attention from the audience, being a new face on Netflix.
The film's core plot is allegorical to the tonnes of wars and civil conflicts the United States has entered in hopes of ending civil terrorism in those territories, an idea which is often corrupted by political ideologies (something we have previously seen in Vice). The idea is to show the part where war ends everything, along with the conflict for those who are left behind. As the pair travels through the devastated Ukrainian territories, we also encounter Sofiya (Emily Beecham), a resistance leader, whom Leo allies with in order to track down a warlord with access to Russian nuke codes. The character represents the war-weary civilians longing for peace and prosperity; a depiction of an angered faction that is caught in an unjust fight between two politically motivated territories and will go to great lengths to end its misery.
Beecham does great justice to her character and her magnetic performance, despite the lesser screen time, brings some positive light to the overall narrative. But her character is somehow left without a resolving conclusion, which will frustrate you. There's also Game of Thrones veteran Pilou Asbæk blessing the screen for a few minutes, but it becomes an uninteresting placement between Mackie and Idris, with nothing valuable to offer to the script. One could say his character is lazily written, which his powerful performance couldn't cover.
Though the plot has a great message to convey, the action and the gun battles are where it lacks originality, and this lessens its impact. Netflix, in the past year, has already released films like Extraction, Project Power and The Old Guard, which basically fulfil viewers' craving for action-thrillers. The purpose of this film keeps shifting from addressing the issue to offering an action-packed experience, which makes it highly confusing and bland. The objective of the film gets lost further with a confusing ending, where viewers are left to imagine whether the film was about the lead characters or about a bigger debate of war and conflicts that haunt the world around us.
It's too early to say if a film can convey an anti-war sentiment through hardcore action that involves war and battles themselves. The film will get a lot of attention, given big-budget releases are still pushed back constantly; however, that one time is the only time I'll be watching Outside The Wire. Powered by amazing post-production work, some attractive performances, and a deeper significance to its core story, the film is enjoyable but just fails to deliver the expectations it sets from the beginning.