Director: Mikael Håfström
Writers: Rowan Athale, Rob Yescombe
Cast: Anthony Mackie, Damson Idris, Emily Beecham, Michael Kelly, Pilou Asbæk
Streaming Platform: Netflix
There are only a select crop of films where I let out a sigh of tremendous relief and say, “Thank God” right when the end credits begin. Outside the Wire, on Netflix, is a blood-soaked and pleasureless pile of brawny, droid-fetishising nonsense. Suffice to say that even Anthony Mackie’s soldered, Marvel-pumped pecs and biceps do not entertain. A rehash of several action flicks, all the Terminators and Ex Machina in particular, this one has no ambition. It relies on the weight of its ancestors. And in the process, it drops any guise of originality — this is the same tale of virility-in-the-time-of-imminent-war that we have seen over and over again.
The film features Damson Idris (Snowfall) as Lieutenant Harp, a drone pilot based in Nevada. After disobeying his superior’s orders, he is sent to a military zone near Ukraine where the United States is meant to keep peace between warring countries and armed insurgents. His commanding officer Leo, played by Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War), is a prototype-android. The steel girders that build him have a thin layer of human skin over them to deceive others into thinking that he is indeed human. According to him (or it), the only reason that the US didn’t build a white, blue-eyed blonde was that his appearance is more comforting. Apart from having the agility of an animal and being mildly bulletproof, there is nothing separating him from a normal person — he feels pain, emotions, and is autonomous enough to do literally anything. I am not sure whether that was simply lazy writing or a sophisticated allusion to the Turing Test.
Damson Idris’ performance is utterly impotent. He looks uninterested in a self-reflexive manner, as if he knows how awful the script is. In scenes where he does have to flaunt some acting chops and is supposed to look dazed and confused, Idris never rises above a very particular stiffness that he confuses for masculinity. He has the charisma of a high-school understudy. Lucky for him though, he isn’t really required to act — the action sequences do that for him. Mackie’s character is emotionally unwieldy but he lacks the dynamism to portray someone who is self-assured and simultaneously, a little wild. And while he sincerely tries to adopt Wahlberg’s cockiness from The Departed, all you get is forced posturing whose repetition will bludgeon you to boredom.
The narrative has the emotional and creative range of a low-budget video game, it is exasperating and dull. The dialogues are outstandingly bad. The worse they get, the more you laugh. Did the writers not realise that vomiting words like “nuclear,” “silos,” and “collateral” every tenth second would surely be overkill? But that is not the worst of it. The film’s final half-hour is a spectacular display of bait-y filmmaking. It hinges on a grand revelation, the twist of the century. Instead, it devolves into a passionless sermon that criticises America’s military presence across the world. It ends up lambasting the very thing it glorified. You’re signing away your right to expect any nuance the moment you begin the film.
For a story that predominantly relies on its action and futurism, Outside the Wire is fairly ordinary. The imagination and innovation come to a halt after a few glimpses of missile-heavy bots and robotic dogs. The violence, too, is cartoonish and generic. Leo is essentially a guns-blazing locomotive. He has a few flashy and high-octane moments but they aren’t unexpected either. It is soporifically by-the-book. At the end of the day, the film is original about only one thing — it does manage to turn Anthony Mackie into a crashing bore.
Outside the Wire is currently available on Netflix.