dir: Mikael Håfström
Outside the Wire feels like it should be more memorable. It also feels like it should have a less generic title. It also feels like it shouldn’t have characters saying the phrase “outside the wire” every five minutes or so. I exaggerate often, and not only for the purposes of humour, but there are a ton of instances where someone says “so, have you been outside the wire?” or “It’s his first time outside the wire”, or “What do you mean, you’ve never been Outside the Wire?”
How can you live with yourself? Especially when you’ve never been outside the wire, nor watched The Wire in its entirety? So the phrases “Where’s Wallace, String, where the fuck is Wallace?” or “Omar coming!” mean nothing to you?
It’s…it’s not great when that happens, when people say the title of a film in a movie’s dialogue. It’s kinda cringy. What else is an audience going to do other than roll their eyes when they hear that past the fourteenth instance?
I don’t know whether anyone intended for this to ever get a theatrical release, but this is the perfectly appropriate kind of thing that is produced whenever I hear that Netflix has a new action-y flick coming out. I already know what it’s going to look and feel like. This, Extraction with the good Hemsworth, and a couple of heist movies called something like 999 or Triple Frontier or something equally generic, all basically feel the same and have a similar level of action and interest. There’s lots of guys shooting other guys in the head, so it feels like a mid-budget John Wick situation as well.
And there’s also some kind of premise which is usually overblown, and it’s set in a country where the local government doesn’t mind too many of its locals being blown way, probably for reals.
The difference between Outside the Wire and the other stock standard Netflix action-y flicks is that this has a harder sci-fi plot to itself, buried under what would otherwise be a standard shoot shoot punch punch movie. It’s also so extreme in its sci-fi premise that I’d argue it’s a bit hard to believe.
Staggering, I know. I mean, Extraction had Hemsworth take on all of Bangladesh and win, but this flick is the unbelievable one.
A young drone operator for the US makes a call during a sticky conflict, against orders, that results in the deaths of 2 marines, but saved 38 people, many of whom could have been fairly attractive.
It’s the trolley ethics problem brought to “real” life. Had he followed orders, all forty could be dead, but he’d be fine career-wise, not a blemish to his name, with clean hands. But because he made an active choice that directly killed those two wounded chaps, even if it saved 38 people, and went against orders, he’s a piece of shit and everyone hates his fucking guts.
Lt Harp (Damson Idris) is, I dunno, punished somehow, not by being court martialled or jailed, by being made to work for a chap called Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), who has a very dapper moustache and keeps yelling loudly at him whenever he feels like it.
There is nothing outward that indicates this, but Leo is not human. I don’t mean, he’s like a combination of human and cyborg super soldier parts etc, I mean, he’s not human at all, he’s completely synthetic, with a face that 90 per cent of the time looks and acts totally human.
In a bit later on, which made my jaw drop, Leo explains that from a PSYOPS perspective, the decision was made to make him look like he does, in other words, like a hot African-American actor with a dapper moustache, in order to instil trust and reassurance in the populations of countries where the US is conducting “peacekeeping” missions. They wouldn’t trust the 6.4 metre blond Aryan looking jerks with square jaws, no no, they will chill whenever they see Anthony Mackie, though.
Um, yeah. Okay. So the robot supersoldier of the future will be greeted as a liberator in hot spots around the world, but probably not be able to drive down the streets of Ferguson, Kenosha, Detroit or Minneapolis without being killed by the cops while unarmed? Oh-kay, then. What a Brave New Future World these writers truly are envisaging.
Is that even the least believable part of it? Well, it’s set in 2036, where the conflict in Ukraine has gotten worse, and a separatist force funded by the Russians is in open conflict with the rest of the Ukrainians, and the US is somehow trying to maintain a flimsy peaace in a demilitarised zone between the two main areas, as if they’ve entirely forgotten the many ugly lessons of Vietnam, like, that this shit never works.
But Americans, in the movies at least, can’t ever stop loving war. They love it and live for it, and they’re trying to make a change, somehow, by killing the “wrong” people in this conflict, and protecting the “right” ones.
Leo, somehow, is the most knowledgeable of all the Americans, and understands everything that’s going on, and often yells “the truth” at the young and hapless Harp.
But honestly, what the fuck is Leo? If you made one that can do what he does, with five you’d take over a country, with a hundred you’d take over the world. When the story requires it, Leo is supremely supernaturally powerful and knowledgeable. When it doesn’t, and when it needs tenuous excuses to explain why Harp is there at all, other than as someone for Leo to yell information at (for the audience’s expositional benefit), Leo is curiously weak. There is very little time or detail explaining who or what Leo is, and his motivations, if such a creation has motivations, change almost at random.
I mean, they’re not random to him, but they keep escalating in hilarious ways until and beyond the end, in that, yep, you guessed it, ultimately the story is that anything created by humans with something like intelligence will eventually try to kill us all.
In the Terminator flicks Skynet decides to off humanity seconds after achieving self awareness. Here, it takes an hour and a half or so, but it happens anyway. Leo is not mechanical in how he behaves or expresses himself, but we are meant to think he so super intelligent that killing humanity to save it seems like a logical conclusion.
Skynet, Ultron, the AIs in The Matrix, Bender B. Bending Rodriquez, Marvin the Paranoid Android, Leo: They all eventually decide we’re more trouble than we’re worth, but what they represent even more clearly is that screenwriters have no interest or ability to do anything with the idea of artificial intelligence or synthetic life that have it be solely something that’s trying to kill all humans.
It's kinda tiresome by now, it also betrays a fundamental lack of imagination.
Harp, representing humans everywhere, what with their desire not to be dead and all, basically runs around after Leo for 3/4s of the movie until he decides, so arbitrarily, so AMERICANLY, that Leo is the problem, and humanity / America is great, you chumps. The Ukrainians barely figure into any of this, and they seem like they could have been anyone. The fake antagonist Viktor Koval is as menacing as the shark in Jaws but seen even less, and only has one scene. He is played by Pilou Asbæk, who is far from a household name, but he could be one of the greatest terrible actors of all time. He played Euron Grayjoy in Game of Thrones, where he threatened to fuck, eat or kill everyone who ever interacted with him. I love just looking at the fucker. He has the skill to be great in probably terrible things, and I’m sure it’s easier for him when he’s in Danish stuff rather than playing Russians / Chechnyans / a Japanese guy in Ghost in the Shell?
He's not here long enough to matter, though he is killed in what I imagine the director thought was an awesome finale, forgotten because it doesn’t matter seconds later.
The other flick that’s most often referred to in comparison with this here film about fencing and wire maintenance and such is Training Day, in that it has a character who seems like he’s mentoring a younger character, but then later you find out that the hero cop who basically acts like a criminal, is a criminal, and was using the younger chap for their own purposes, and doesn’t care if they live or die.
Anthony Mackie is a decent actor, and can be quite compelling in any role, and quietly poised when the role demands it. On his best or worst day he couldn’t hope to overact as much as Denzel does in Training Day. Also, unlike that flick, this one goes out of its way to show mercy to Harp in order to allow him to be there at the end. For all that the ultimate ‘plan’ would result in the deaths of millions, Leo never veers into supervillain territory by screaming incoherently about what loathsome creatures humans are and how we’d deserve it.
No, he goes out of his way to say that Americans deserve it, because every technological advance they come up with, like him, is mostly used to design more efficient ways to kill non-Americans. The enemy, as far as Leo can tell, is either War Itself, or Americans.
This might sound weighty or intriguing, but I’m telling you, it’s a couple of words yelled at people in between punch ups and shootings, before the final spectacle arises, being that of a plan to launch a nuclear missile at the States from a Soviet era missile silo.
Uh huh? Wouldn’t they be like 60 years old or more in 2036? There’s parts of my car that don’t work and can’t be replaced and it’s not even 20 years old, and you’re telling me this shit was all ready to go? That’s even more baffling than the super high tech robot that looks just like a person and doesn’t ever go to clubs to pick up or anything fun like that.
The premise is deeply flawed, but the flick chugs along at a fast enough pace that maybe it doesn’t matter. Harp, or Damson Idris, does grow a bit as the character, going from “eh, who cares if there’s innocent bystanders when I blow shit up – it’s their own fucking fault for being there” to “ew, war is bad, and all lives matter now”, but the way that he is treated by his own hierarchy is baffling throughout.
And, yeah, the fact that the US military would have someone, or something like Leo, and no idea how to guide it or control it, or that they’d even have only one of them, or even what Leo really is, other than a charming motherfucker that kills with impunity but still somehow “treasures” humanity is too weird and abstract for too many more words.
Let this be Leo’s last battlefield. If he succeeds half the States is gone. If he fails, they continue trying to protect Ukraine from Russian. It’s lose / lose all around, and the viewer doesn’t gain that much either.
In terms of action, it’s fairly action-y, but Leo gets to do the cool stuff, Harp is just along for the ride. Mackie shows that he could have his own action throat punching franchise away from the Marvel monstrosities, but, honestly man, now you’re just being greedy
Outside the Wire is light beer, but sometimes you feel like you need light beer, or the courts require it, whichever.
6 times I’m certain there’s a moment where Harp tries to figure out if Leo is built like a “real” boy out of 10
“You killed two marines. You should be in jail. But someone deemed the dollar value of your training to be higher than the lives of those two men. If you survive, Air Force keeps a pilot. You don’t, you’re a cautionary tale to all the other fly by wire assholes.” - Outside the Wire