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REVIEW: Outside the Wire (2021)

Netflix’s latest action movie is set in 2036 and sees the American military acting as a peace keeping force at the Ukraine/Russia border after a civil war breaks out led by warlord Victor Koval (Pilou Asbæk). Drone pilot Lieutenant Harp (Damson Idris) is our guide in this world as he finds himself on the frontlines and paired with Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), an android officer on a mission to stop a nuclear attack.

There’s nothing really new in Outside the Wire. If you’ve seen any sci-fi action film before, you’ll have a good idea of what’s going to happen. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as often it’s the execution of the idea rather than the idea itself that can make things interesting. The sci-fi and military elements are meshed together well and the special effects on Leo’s android body are really effective. It also manages to be an android design that’s different and eye-catching.

The way the sci-fi elements are subtly integrated into the story means that a lot of focus is on the war aspect of Outside the Wire to begin with. As Harp is a drone pilot, he’s only been taking part in the conflict while sitting in front of a computer screen. He has an almost emotional disconnect with what his drone strikes do and how they affect people, he does the maths and if it’s a choice between losing two men or forty, he will push the button, no matter what the men on the ground may feel about it. Having him then thrust into an active warzone opens his eyes to the realities of what he has done while safely behind a screen in a different country. Outside the Wire is heavy-handed with its anti-war/anti-America’s general involvement in every conflict ever messaging, but Damson Idris’s performance as he slowly realises what he and his commanding officers have done is effective.

Outside the Wire falls into the trap of a lot of action movies recently, getting bogged down in action sequences that do little to further character or plot and are just there to look cool and exciting – and it’s debatable whether it succeeds at those things too. While the sequences are generally shot well, and Anthony Mackie especially looks great in the hand-to-hand fights, it ends up being more repetitive than everything.

Because Leo is a pretty fleshed out character, and with Mackie’s natural charisma and likability, it’s easy to forget he’s an android. So when Outside the Wire takes a turn from a more war-focused film to a sci-fi one it’s a bit jarring. It suddenly poses a lot of the usual themes and ethical dilemmas concerning androids, humans and conflict, but doesn’t have the time to deal with them in a meaningful way. For being an almost two-hour film that certainly has its peaks and troughs in terms of pacing, the final thirty seems rushed as it tries to deal with these ethical dilemmas without much groundwork being laid – the flashbacks to show said “groundwork” aren’t sufficient and some of them are of no consequence at all.

Outside the Wire is a pretty average action film but Mackie and Idris’s performances manage to ground things, especially when the plot takes an unexpected turn.

Rating: ★★

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