Outside the Wire (2021), a Forgettable War Film Loosely Passing as Sci-Fi

The start of the year brought much uncertainty for the film industry, with the global pandemic still raging and the announcements of long-awaited films like No Time to Die and Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho having been delayed once again, the cinematic landscape looked like it was gearing up for another year of streaming hits in lieu of the traditional theatre experience. Clearly eager to pounce on the uncertain release schedule, Netflix made the announcement that it would be bringing it’s subscribers a new film every week for the whole of 2021. From my own personal perspective this news is neither amazing nor terrible, their upcoming slate has some films that I’m eagerly anticipating, but similarly there are some releases, like the conclusions to The Kissing Booth and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before franchises, that I don’t care about and have no intention of watching. But amidst these two extremes is a grey area that I feel like a lot of films are going to fall into, which is the completely generic and forgettable films that only exist to bolster Netflix’s numbers…… Outside the Wire falls into that category.

The film takes place in 2036AD is set in the middle of a Civil War in central-Europe follows Damson Idris’s Lt. Thomas Harp, a drone pilot who disobeys a direct order that results in the death of two marines. As a punishment for this indisgression Harp is transferred to the US base of operations in Ukraine and is partnered with Anthony Mackie’s Captain Leo, as part of a classified operation to track down a terrorist on the verge of obtaining access to leftover Cold War Nukes. The early reveal, and don’t worry this isn’t a spoiler, is that Leo isn’t human but a highly advanced experimental android super-soldier. 

This information and AI mech-soldier’s called “Gumps”, are the limits of the film Sci-Fi components. This is unfortunate as it makes the ideas feel half-baked and rushed, take the Gumps for example; we’re told about them in the film’s introduction and in the opening action set-piece we see them in full force, and then throughout the bulk of the film they’re present in the firefights but they play no significant or even minor part in the film’s narrative, at least Captain Leo’s existence is explored, even if it is done poorly. The rest of the film, and specifically the action are all rooted in contemporary military equipment, and if anything the framing of the protagonist being a drone pilot who underestimates the reality of war is a very clear criticism of modern-day warfare, but by not creating, or even attempting, any interesting thematic parallel through it’s sci-fi setting makes it feel pointless and slapped on for purely so it could be sold as a Sci-Fi instead of a War film.

The script is generic, every story beat falls exactly when you expect it to and the third act is filled with constant twists and turns that never feel that surprising because they feel so cliche to begin with. From the very beginning the writing is heavy-handed to say the least, the opening scene is especially egregious as we see Harp operating a drone missile while a group of Marine’s struggle on the ground to escape from heavy enemy fire. Harp is almost disengaged as he eats sweets and casually argues about the merits of attacking before the marine’s are able to retreat. The scene is trying to critique the culture of drone warfare and how it makes the senseless killing in the midst of war as easy as the click of a button, but the way it’s handled just feels so overkill. The way we get smash cuts between Harp casually eating gummy bears and the wounded Marines on the ground screaming feels so on-the-nose but it’s present so authentically, and it just feels like a very basic concept of how to hit the right story beats emotionally to set up the eventual emotional payoff in the third act. But even when the film reaches the eventual conclusions of these set-ups, they feel so forced. There’s a moment later on in the film where the opening scenario is literally replayed but with Harp in the position that the marines were at the start, and it just feels like such weak writing to literally mirror the exact same scenario. I can see why the filmmakers chose to do this because obviously the second time around the characters have developed and realised the errors of their previous thinking, but in execution it feels so forced and blatant that it doesn’t work as intended.

Visually the film is jarring, there’s lots of different techniques implemented in an attempt to be stylish, especially in the action sequences, but it makes the frames feel messy and cluttered. The editing is rudimentary that carries movement from cut to cut to make the blows feel striking, but it doesn’t feel like there’s any flourish to it. Similarly even outside of the action scenes the editing often feels choppy and lots of the cuts just feel unnecessary. The cinematography is pretty lacklustre too, while the variety of locations in the film do allow for a nice blend of colours and saturations, a lot of shot compositions and movements feel lacking, and the framing of the action scenes is head-ache inducing in how the camera swings to follow the blows. 

While I hope that Netflix’s weekly movie schedule will yield some good results over the course of the year, Outside the Wire doesn’t put the company on a good first footing. Going forward I really can’t see this film being talked about once the initial hype dies down in the next couple of weeks and this time next year there is no chance in my mind that people will be talking about this film. The performances are limp, Håfström’s direction is lacklustre, the script is weak and both the characters and the story are forgettable. Ultimately I feel this is going to be one of those films where in years to come someone will ask if anyone ever saw it and those who did will answer that they wished they hadn’t….

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