Saturday 10 July 2021

Movie Review: Outside The Wire (2021)

A near-future war action movie, Outside The Wire dabbles in many themes and delivers on none of them.

In 2036, US military forces are deployed as peacekeepers in Ukraine as Russian-backed insurgents under the command of mysterious warlord Victor Koval (Pilou Asbæk) battle against local ragtag resistance fighters. Drone pilot Lieutenant Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) disobeys an order, and as penance is deployed to the front lines. His is teamed with Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), a near-indestructible android military officer. 

Leo and Harp quickly embark on a mission to deliver vaccines to a stranded civilian hospital and to gather intelligence on Koval's whereabouts. Leo suspects Koval is close to seizing control of Cold War-era nuclear warhead launch sites and intends to target western cities. Harp has to quickly acclimatize to war at close quarters, and starts to realize Leo not only possesses exceptional combat skills, but operates according to different rules.

Outside The Wire cannot decide what story it wants to tell. Is it about joystick soldiers getting a taste of real combat and experiencing the implications of their bombs? Is it about averting the threat of rogue terrorist armies (somehow muddling Ukrainian and Balkan politics) getting their hands on nukes? Is it about the rise of the machines and the dangers of allowing robot soldiers - clunky and otherwise - onto the battlefield? Is it a plea for militant pacifism through a taste-of-your-own-medicine intervention hiding in a ragged burn-the-village-to-save it cloak?

The screenplay by Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale pauses every ten minutes and tries to reinvent itself, but gets hopelessly entangled in its own bewildering focus shifts. Meanwhile director Mikael Håfström delivers a succession of action set-pieces that, while competently staged, start to resemble beads without a thread.

The massive plot holes don't help, a futuristic techno-thriller somehow hinging on an old-fashioned chase for a chunky box of nuclear codes, and the locations of Cold War silo sites still a secret - but known to a scrappy arms dealer.

Anthony Mackie glides above the incompetent material with respectable swagger, but Damson Idris is right there in the muck, rarely overcoming elemental deer-in-the-headlights status and not helped by some inane lines of dialogue. Outside The Wire ventures beyond the perimeter fence and gets comprehensively lost.

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