Outside the Wire (2021)
It's 2036 and a civil war has broken out in Eastern Europe. The US has sent in peacekeepers to assist, and because it's 2036 these peacekeepers are both human and gump...gumps are robot soldiers. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word "gump" means: "a foolish or dull-witted person"...seems pointed. At any rate, Gumps aren't intelligent and need human soldiers to command them not to randomly kill civilians.
In amongst all the soldiers and gumps, is a drone pilot named Harp (Damson Idris). He circles the conflict from above, listens to the screams of the people, callously eats gummy bears and drops bombs when commanded. Or, as it happens, when he's explicitly told not to drop bombs. Harp is punished for his disobedience, as it kills two US soldiers, though he argues that he killed the few to save the many, and that his collateral damage is well within the US army's target numbers. Before this turns into an ethical conundrum, let's move right along!
As punishment for his insubordination, Harp is sent to the ground to work with Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie). He arrives at the military camp, and seeks help from other soldiers to find Leo. Almost instantly he is warned, "He's not like us". Interesting. What makes Leo so different? Well it's 2036 and Leo is in a warzone, but to hell with convenience! He gets his music the good ol' fashioned way: from records. Obviously, this is what I initially assumed was Leo's point of difference. I mean, why carry a record-player around, when you can have Spotify? (I'm assuming Spotify will not be obsolete in 2036). I'm not disputing the awesome-ness of records, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that Spotify is much easier than a discman... and a record player is larger than a discman. By the by, it turns out that the use of a record-player, is actually fairly significant. Incredibly significant. I wish I wasn't thinking so hard about #Spotify when I first saw it, or I might have realised how important the record player actually was...
Anyway, turns out that Leo's point of difference is not his preference for inconveniently large and un-portable music devices, it's that he's secretly a robot-man. So, what do this new dynamic duo Captain Leo the robot-man and Harp the naughty drone pilot do? They set off to find Viktor Koval, a "crazy terrorist with nukes". Honestly, I cannot think of a more cliché enemy for an American action/sci-fi film. But perhaps that's me being persnickety.
I suppose this is a buddy cop film, in that our two leads are polar opposites and are on a mission to defeat a nuke-wielding terrorist. Leo is a robot who has emotions/feelings/compassion and Harp is a human who approves of collateral damage because he has only seen his own destruction through remote screens. Every time these two characters get into a car together, we are subjected to a deep and meaningful discussion about both viewpoints. Perhaps the phrase "deep and meaningful" is too strong, but it's certainly true that it's through these discussions that the film's central themes are directly addressed. With lines like, "Maybe humans aren't emotional enough lieutenant," and "Humans can learn to do better. That is the greater good."
This film isn't just about robots and humanity, though. At it's core, Harp's story is the tale of a man who learns his lesson about collateral damage. When he has to view the destruction up close, it takes a toll on him. He's killed plenty of people from the sky, but when he shoots a man in close proximity, he slumps against a car, in the centre frame and the camera slowly zooms in on his face. He is not okay. He realises that what he has done is not okay. He realises that collateral damage is not okay. Nothing is okay. Then this message is really reinforced, when U.S. lives are threatened and a local woman points out the hypocrisy in Harp's thinking, "It's just collateral...Oh...not when it's American lives?" This may be the most effective line in the movie.
Outside the Wire emits some serious video game vibes, in that it seems to follow the age old pattern of: see this guy, get the mission, do the mission, see another person, get the mission, do the mission etc. While the film itself is okay at best, it's important to acknowledge that the action sequences are really enjoyable. If you enjoy watching Anthony Mackie run around beating people up as a robot-man, you will also enjoy this film. I understand that I've just described a very specific set of criteria, but I'm sure you know what you like.
Outside the Wire is currently available on Netflix. In my opinion, it's a passable way to start the new year. Those that like the action/sci-fi genre or Anthony Mackie will probably find it worthwhile, those that don't, probably won't. I won't give away too much about the third act, but I will ask one final question: If you fire a missile at a nuke, is it all good? I don't know. If you're a scientist, feel free to help me with this one.