‘Outside the Wire’ Review – Anthony Mackie Shows His True Action-Hero Potential

Outside the Wire is an action-packed sci-fi film with an excellent, charismatic performance from Anthony Mackie. The Captain America: The Winter Soldier actor shows once again that he is perfectly suited to action-packed roles in science fiction settings, following on from his great turn in the second season of Altered Carbon. Despite Mackie’s charisma, the film overall is simply ‘okay’. Outside the Wire acts like it has something profound to say about the nature of humanity, but its messaging trips up in the final act, leaving us with a film that is just an entertaining watch.

Set in the year 2036, Outside the Wire focuses on a civil war in Eastern Europe. America serves as a peacekeeping force and has soldiers fighting on the ground, as well as pilots controlling drones from afar. Damson Idris‘ character Lieutenant Harp is one such pilot, but is sent to a military outpost after he disobeys orders and kills two US soldiers in a drone strike. While some of the soldiers fighting are robots (called, of all things, ‘gumps’), Harp doesn’t expect for the Captain he’s assigned to to be an android himself. Captain Leo (Mackie) takes Harp on a dangerous mission into the demilitarised zone to kill a warlord and stop him from acquiring devastating nuclear weapons. Along the way, Harp sees firsthand the real cost of the war that he’s previously only looked at from a distance.

One of the things the film does well is mix familiar formulas and conflicts with elements of science fiction. The civil war in Ukraine and US intervention provides a Cold War-esque conflict, and the threat of good old-fashioned nuclear weapons is one we’re familiar with. At the same time, the situation is updated to suit a futuristic setting through the use of the gumps. Robotic soldiers designed to be killing machines seem perfectly feasible in this setting, even though it isn’t that far in the future. Mackie’s android soldier adds to the futuristic feel of the film, which otherwise is quite lacking, especially aesthetically. But he’s not just there for show; his presence makes every fight scene and action sequence exhilarating. Captain Leo is a fighting machine. He never misses a shot, and when he runs out of ammo he quickly thinks of an alternative to take out the insurrectionists. Mackie’s fights are exceptionally choreographed, and he acts them out with ease, as though he was always meant to be a badass action hero.

Despite its’ engrossing action, Outside the Wire quickly proves that it is unafraid to look at serious issues. The biggest theme running throughout the film is the devastating human cost of war and the hypocrisy of the US military. While Ukrainian warlord Victor Koval is labelled ‘the bad guy’, Outside the Wire doesn’t shy away from placing blame on all parties. When Harp fires a drone strike that kills two young soldiers, this is treated very seriously by the military. He could easily have gone to prison instead of being reassigned. However, we see early on in the story that they value the lives of civilians in the demilitarised zone very differently. The insurrectionists and the military are equally as inhuman when it comes to their cavalier attitude towards collateral damage, and initially, Harp feels the same.

This creates an interesting situation when it comes to empathising with the characters. Neither side of the war is without fault. Each has caused civilian casualties. There are no ‘good’ guys, and Harp isn’t ‘good’ either. He has no regrets over the actions that got him reassigned and takes the view that collateral damage is inevitable when trying to save the majority. It seems initially as though every character is dislikeable, but this is not the case with Captain Leo. Oddly enough, the android seems more human and has a more caring attitude towards others than all of the actually-human characters combined. When Harp calls those in the demilitarised zone violent, Leo recognises that they are simply scared, with little access to food and medicine. The android is also better at negotiating and making peace than flesh-and-blood soldiers. Leo is the one personable and truly likeable character in the whole film.

Outside the Wire emphasises the importance of protecting innocent lives, and this is what Harp learns to do throughout the course of the film. However, its messaging gets a bit muddled towards the end of the film following an unexpected twist. The twist itself is a good addition to the narrative, and it’s unlikely that you will see it coming. It is unfortunate, though, that it results in a final act that feels slightly mismatched with the rest of the film. Despite this, Outside the Wire is entertaining, action-packed, and includes a brilliant performance from Anthony Mackie, who shows why he should be cast in a lot more leading roles.

Outside the Wire is streaming from 15th January on Netflix.

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