Set in the year 2036, Outside the Wire tells the story of Lt. Thomas Harp (Damson Idris), a drone pilot with a commitment to weighing the odds. When Harp engages his drone in an active war zone in the face of a direct order from his commanding officer, he is transferred to the Ukraine under the command of Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie). Soon after Harp arrives, he is stunned to discover that Leo is actually an advanced BioTech android, yet his captain’s love for human life may actually make him more human than his new recruit.
Directed by Mikael Hafstrom (1408), Outside the Wire is an action-packed film with a high concept that struggles to leave a lasting impact after the final credits roll. To his credit, Hafstrom creates a world of grit and intensity that offers consistent action from start to finish. Intense and focused, Hafstrom does a good job of involving the viewer in the action by keeping them (mostly) emotionally invested. What’s more, with the addition of Avengers break-out Mackie, Wire is also front-loaded with a charismatic star that can handle elaborate set pieces as well. Charming yet focused, Mackie does an excellent job as the technologically advanced Leo and provides the film’s heart. Meanwhile, relative newcomer Damson Idris (Snowfall) provides an icy counterpart to the Mackie’s more compassionate android that creates some solid tension between the two conflicting ideologies.
However, with all of these building blocks in its favour, it’s somewhat surprising that Wire simply doesn’t fully realize its potential. With a high concept and intriguing premise, the film has the opportunity to truly make a statement about the evolving relationship between man and technology. Unfortunately, a meandering script and an over-emphasis on battle scenes at the expense of character moments prevent Wire from hitting its target.
Having said this, the film does manage an interesting conversation regarding the lines between man and machine. Lt. Harp’s initial decision to break a direct order stems from his commitment to cold, hard logic. In essence, Harp’s dedication to rational judgment gives him confidence yet also causes him to weigh human life with mathematical precision. Despite being told to remove his drone from a combat situation, he concludes that, despite killing two of his own men, the fact that he could save thirty-eight others counterbalances the loss. (Incidentally, is this the first time that the military has been shown to be the more empathetic organization?)
When he meets Leo, Harp is struck by his captain’s apparent compassion for all human life, despite his robotic existence. Leo’s desire to preserve the lives of all under his care recognizes their value, regardless of their strategic advantage. As such, Harp’s journey throughout the film becomes one that challenges him to understand what it truly means to be human, as taught by a machine. Having spent his life as a drone operator, Harp has maintained a certain level of distance from the realities of combat and human life yet his relationship with Leo provides him with the opportunity to become more intimately connected with others. In this way, Wire serves as a reminder of the importance of every human life, sometimes in defiance of logic and reason. (Though, admittedly, the film’s final twist threatens to undermine this conclusion.)
While there’s a lot to like about Outside the Wire, one can’t help but feel that there was the opportunity for so much more. Rather than focusing on the action and advanced tech, the film’s real strength lies in its characters, especially that of the more-evolved Leo. However, in the heat of too many battle scenes, it’s unfortunate that they are the ones who end up being left behind in the process.
Outside the Wire is streaming on Netflix now.