Netflix’s latest release hit the platform on January 15th, and fans of sci-fi action will undoubtedly be excited by the prospect of Anthony Mackie cracking skulls as an android attempting to thwart a terrorists plan to acquire nuclear weapons.
Outside the Wire starts out strong. Drone pilot Lt. Thomas Harp (Idris) faces a court martial for an incident of friendly fire in which he saved 38 lives, but killed two marines. His punishment is that he must serve at a new post on the front lines, manning a DMZ in war-torn Ukraine.
Here he meets Leo (Anthony Mackie), his new CO, who, despite his very human appearance, is a highly advanced android.
Leo tasks Harp with accompanying him on a mission to deliver vaccines to civilians outside of the US military’s perimeter, while covertly gathering intel on a terrorist intent on stealing nuclear missiles.
Outside the Wire opens by asking a tough philosophical question: is it worth sacrificing two lives to save 38 more? For a while, it seems as though this question, as well as the very nature of war, are going to be closely examined, and all appears to be remarkably promising for the first 40 minutes or so (except for one inadvertently funny scene in which the movie’s title is spoken aloud 3 or 4 times in close succession).
Despite its status as a war movie, Outside the Wire attempts to paint a picture of peacekeeping soldiers who try their best to avoid violence – that is, until it abandons that idea entirely in order to show off Leo’s combat capabilities.
From there, the movie soon becomes a pretty standard action movie: enjoyable, but nothing to write home about, with Mackie and Idris’ performances the only thing saving Outside the Wire from being truly unremarkable.
There’s then a standard (and fairly predictable) third-act plot twist that, despite being easy to understand, is presented in such a way that you won’t be able to fully understand what’s happening until several minutes later, and even then, it’s all so at odds with the movie’s first half that you’re likely to check out entirely.
The problem with Outside the Wire is one of wasted potential. It’s got all the makings of a great movie; it’s tense, packed with action, and weighted with larger, ethical questions; but it simply doesn’t quite deliver on all of its promise.
One thing that should be said is that both Mackie and Idris deliver excellent turns as Leo and Harp respectively, and they’re equally compelling throughout the movie, which is more than enough to encourage you to see it through even after its bizarre narrative has put you off.
Summary: For a movie that starts out with a lot to offer, Outside the Wire ends on a strange, clichéd and disappointing note. Its action will keep you entertained, but needless plot twists and deliberately confusing storytelling keep it from capitalizing on the solid performances of its stars.