Outside the Wire

 

starstarstarhalf

 


In the year 2032, a US drone pilot finds himself on the streets of the Ukraine during an apocalyptic civil war.

 

Outside the Wire

Vaccine victors: Anthony Mackie and Damson Idris

  

Things can get worse. Imagine a world in which people are dying from cholera and the military has been deployed to deliver vaccines. The year is 2036 and civil war has broken out in Eastern Europe – and, post-Trump, US troops are once again on foreign soil attempting to save lives. Tier-three UAV pilot Lt. Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) has been flown to the front line in the Ukraine. It’s a punishment for disobeying a direct order that led to the death of two Marines. His rash decision, which also happened to save 38 lives, becomes an ethical motif in Mikael Håfström's film, an action-thriller that constantly re-invents itself. When Harp arrives 10,000 miles from the comfort of his Nevada PlayStation in the desert, he is put under the command of Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), a peacekeeper who is happy to see Harp have a taste of his own medicine. But, unlike Harp, Leo is not exactly human…

 

Before going in, it may help to know that Outside the Wire is a hybrid of many precursors: The Hurt Locker and American Sniper, perhaps, but more knowingly RoboCop, Universal Soldier and even a touch of The Terminator. This is strictly B-movie fare, albeit escapism with a grander design. Indeed, there are many nice touches. When we first meet Leo, he is banging away on a typewriter, surrounded by physical files and books while listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on a vinyl LP. Yet Leo is the last word in futuristic high-tech. And when we first see the claustrophobic world of Harp’s workplace – a state-of-the-art PortaCabin in Nevada – it is not without the clutter of your standard office, with open crisp packets and fruit gums on the counter. It’s an everyday detail that would appeal to Ridley Scott. There’s also humour squeezed in-between the gunfights and explosions, particularly in the dry banter between Leo and Harp.

 

Outside the Wire may just attempt to mix too many ingredients into its cake, but it almost gets away with eating it. Because beneath the skilful CGI and accomplished stuntwork, there is a savvy aesthetic at work. On the back of his roles in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Angers: Infinity War (as ‘the Falcon’), and more serious films like Detroit, The Hate U Give and Seberg, Anthony Mackie brings a note of A-list credibility (he is also a producer). And the London-born Damson Idris, a dynamic jumble of charisma, good looks and bravura, is an engagingly complex presence, the latest in a long-line of gifted young English actors proving adept at playing black Americans. Leo even makes a comment on the “neutrality” of his own skin colour, noting that a blond-haired, blue-eyed RoboCop might get people’s backs up. An extra thespian bonus is Emily Beecham who, as another multifaceted component, is more than mere distaff distraction.

 

And then there are the moral issues of the collateral damage of human lives, previously aired in such drone warfare fare as Good Kill and Eye in the Sky. The film is not afraid of making grand statements. Who would be prepared to kill a million people in order to save the lives of a hundred million? Nonetheless, for all its attempts at something more profound and cautionary, Outside the Wire never seriously sloughs off the skin of formula. It is gripping throughout and while it engages moral indignation as well intellectual intrigue, its schematic template tethers it to multiplex popcorn escapism. Which, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Anthony Mackie, Damson Idris, Enzo Cilenti, Emily Beecham, Henry Garrett, Kristina Tonteri-Young, Pilou Asbæk, Michael Kelly, Brady Dowad.

 

Dir Mikael Håfström, Pro Anthony Mackie, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Ben Pugh, Erica Steinberg, Jason Spire and Arash Amel, Screenplay Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale, Ph Michael Bonvillain, Pro Des Kevin Phipps, Ed Rickard Krantz, Music Lorne Balfe, Costumes Caroline Harris, Sound Glenn Freemantle.

 

Automatik Entertainment/42 Films/Inspire Entertainment-Netflix.

115 mins. USA/Hungary. 2021. Rel: 15 January 2021. Available on Netflix. Cert. 15.