‘Outside the Wire’ Review: At War With the Robots


Director Mikael Hafstrom’s “Outside the Wire,” the latest Netflix battle film in an exotic location, features low-calorie action in a less fulfilling, Cold War-inspired robotic revolt narrative. The film’s superfluous subtitles – several characters later repeat the same information – explain the outbreak of a civil war that took place in Eastern Europe in 2036. US troops serve as peacekeepers against the ruthless criminal warlord Viktor Koval (Pilou Asbaek) from the region with the help of robot soldiers named Gumps. Harp (Damson Idris), a dispassionate drone pilot, is ordered to the war zone as punishment after his cold calculation resulted in the deaths of two Marines. Along with a top-secret android, Leo (Anthony Mackie), as his manager, he embarks on a mission to stop Koval from obtaining nuclear weapons.

As in several films with sentient robots (“The Terminator”, “Ex Machina”), “Outside the Wire” presents a metaphor for Android as a slave, except this time with a black actor. While the Gumps are physically and verbally abused by their human comrades, Leo is equally dismissed as “none of us”. And Harp, a black soldier without the discipline to say “Sir” to his superiors, is assigned to a robot overseer in Leo. While this metaphor serves as the thematic backbone for Leo and Harp’s mission, Rowan Athale and Rob Yescombe’s incorrect script wears out the conventional theme.

The cameraman Michael Bonvillain transfers the shaky camera style he used on “Cloverfield” – as Roger Ebert called “Queasy-Cam” at the time – to the firefights in “Outside the Wire” in order to achieve confusing results. The film’s opening siege, in which, for example, a train is struggling to recover a comrade who has been caught in a crossfire, is spatially uncertain. Grainy footage of the battle provides little visual information other than the location on an expressway. Without the viewers knowing where and at whom the soldiers are shooting, the action on the screen can no longer be deciphered. Mackie’s quirky accomplishment – Leo finishes every order from Harp with an unpleasant smile – is confusing too. Under the guise of impending global destruction, the film reaches a reworked ending that includes unsurprising betrayals and even more undramatic twists. “Outside the Wire” is a futuristic war film that lacks imagination in the present.

Outside the wire
Rated R for extreme robot-to-robot violence. Running time: 1 hour 54 minutes. Watch on Netflix.

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