Brief synopsis: In a war-torn future, a drone pilot is sent into the field after he disobeys an order, resulting in the death of two soldiers. He finds himself under the command of a top-secret sentient robot chasing after a warlord intent on destroying the world. Or so he is led to believe.
Is it any good?: Nope. Outside The Wire is a convoluted mess and seems somewhat anti-American, though it proves not to be. Politics aside, Outside The Wire is too smart for its own good, layering red herring exposition upon red herring exposition and throwing in a McGuffin for good measure.
At nearly two hours long, Outside The Wire is a bit of chore to sit through for a story that was better told back in 1983’s WarGames.
Spoiler territory: it is the year 2035 and the US military are on a peacekeeping mission to prevent Russia from taking Ukraine back under its sovereignty. Sergeant Miller (Enzo Cilenti) is on the ground in Eastern Europe with a forty strong troop of soldiers.
A terrorist faction, led by the elusive Victor Koval (Pilou Asbæk), is a constant threat. Miller and his men find themselves in a battle with some of the faction. The US has added robot soldiers, called Gumps, to their ranks.
As the battle rages below, a couple of drone pilots, Harp (Damson Idris) and Bale (Kristina Tonteri-Young) watch the scene unfold from a quiet location in Nevada, controlling their drones from there.
On the ground, one of Miller’s men gets injured. He sends Gomez (Adam Fielding) out to try and rescue him, the rest of the battalion will give covering fire. A truck is approaching the area where Miller’s battalion is. Harp sees the truck and wants to engage believing it to be hostile.
Miller tells him that two of his men are in the zone, he is not to engage. Harp wants to engage, asking Miller to fall back, reasoning the lives of the majority outweigh the needs of the two probable casualties. He asks Bale to contact their superior, captain Brydon (Henry Garrett) to override Miller’s orders.
Brydon contacts Miller and is told about the injured soldier that Gomez is trying to rescue. Harp believes the battalion are in imminent danger and locks on to the truck. Miller refuses to give the order for a strike and Brydon agrees telling Harp to stand down. Harp releases his missile, destroying the truck and killing two soldiers.
Harp faces disciplinary action over his disregard of orders. Having never seen any military action in the field, he is sent to meet captain Leo (Anthony Mackie). Harp finds himself flying to a US base in Eastern Europe to report to Leo. Harp is told by colonel Eckhart (Michael Kelly) where he can find Leo.
Leo is in a remote part of the encampment, a section where they work on the Gumps. Harp finds Leo in a large library inputting data whilst listening to jazz music. Harp introduces himself to a typing Leo. He ignores Harp as he finishes the task he has at hand. Finishing, Leo looks up and recounts Harp’s life to him. He knows who he is and why he is there.
Leo gets up and tells Harp to bring some packages from a fridge. He puts the packages in a backpack as he tells Harp what he does there. He delivers vaccines to those who need them ‘outside the wire’; the region of the country the US does not patrol. Harp will be going with him.
He asks Harp if he has heard of Victor Koval. Harp says he has. Leo enlightens him on the entire picture of Koval, that he has been responsible for thousands of deaths and, more pertinently, he is trying to get hold of the codes for all of Russia’s nuclear warheads.
He tells him that they are going on the mission immediately and he needs to change out of his military garb. As Leo gets changed Leo sees that he is not human. Leo is an android. A shocked Harp stares at Leo in wonderment. Leo asks him if he thinks he can trust him. Harp says he thinks he can.
The two go an join a convoy to begin the mission. Before they leave, Leo goes to take care of something else. Harp gets jumped by some soldiers and beat up a little. Miller comes and asks if he recognises his voice. He tells him the two soldiers who died because of him, were only nineteen years old. Leo returns, Miller and the soldiers stand down.
The convoy head out. Leo warns him that where they are heading is notoriously dangerous and the situation spontaneous. As they drive, Leo asks Harp about his life and his fiancé. He ribs him a bit. They travel through the war-torn regions outside of the military enclosure. The come across a blockade.
A group of Ukrainians are having food passed out to them by militia from a hijacked food truck. The ragtag militia faces off against the convoy. One of the Gumps shoots one of the Ukrainians. Leo, who had not left his jeep, gets out to calm the situation. He tells Miller to tell his men to lower their weapons and approaches the militia.
Leo manages to find an accord with the militia and the convoy begins to retreat. Both groups are attacked by a third group. Leo tells Miller that they are going to go ahead on foot. He and Harp grab the vaccines and leave. Away from the firefight, Leo believes Koval is getting closer to his objective.
As they walk, Leo tells Harp that the reason he looks like he does, the highest possible military-technical representation of US might, is because he expresses neutrality. The enemy will not feel threatened by him. They are heading to a shelter run by the Resistance. As they get to the camp, Leo is beckoned through.
Inside the camp, a man is watching the two men. Leo delivers the vaccines to a doctor. The man who was watching, trains a gun on them, watching through a scope. He contacts Koval. Koval tells him to kill them both. The man shoots a nurse, causing panic in the hospital. Leo shoots the sniper, wounding him.
He tortures the sniper, wanting to get information but he refuses to speak. Leo, much to Harp’s horror, leaves the man to be beaten to death by people in the camp. Harp wants to call back to base for back up but Leo tells him it will take too long. Harp thinks Leo is going rogue and threatens to report him.
A reluctant Harp is forced to follow Leo. Harp asks Leo what he is. He is a combat soldier he tells him but can act for himself when required to. Harp thinks that emotion makes people fallible. They reach their destination, a place where Leo is to get intel on Koval’s whereabouts.
It is an encampment where orphaned children are looked after. The encampment is run by Sofiya (Emily Beecham). Leo wants Koval’s location. She tells them that Koval is close to acquiring the codes he needs for the missiles. The person with the knowledge for the code exchange is an arms dealer, Oshlak (Velibor Topic). Sofiya tells them they will need weapons.
She can supply them as she is also an arms dealer. Leo tells Sofiya that Harp is a drone-pilot. Harp, who is outside watching the children play, is told by Sofiya that many of the kids he is watching were orphaned by drone bombs.
They go to meet Oshlak. Oshlak’s men try to stop them. Leo beats up and kills them. He gets information about Koval from Oshlak. Sofiya kills Oshlak. Leo and Harp head to the location. On the drive, Leo has Harp cut out his shutdown switch, telling him that the Russians can track him.
They arrive at a bank where Koval’s men have taken all the employees' hostage. The codes are in the bank’s vault. Leo directs Harp to contact Eckhart and get the hostages out of the bank. He goes after Koval. Harp contacts Eckhart and tells him that they are at the bank. Eckhart sends Gumps. Some of Koval’s men come out of the bank with hostages in tow.
Gumps purchased by Koval join the battle. Eckhart tells Harp that they going to take out Koval. They are sending a drone. Leo pursues one of Koval’s men who has the codes. He kills him and gets the codes back. The drone bombs the building.
Leo and Harp survive. Harp realises that Leo has a different plan when he says they are not taking the codes back. Leo knocks him unconscious and leaves him. Harp wakes up and is grabbed by some militia. Leo goes to see Koval.
The militia that grabbed Harp work for Sofiya. She tells him that Koval is alive. He was never in the bank. Leo asks Koval why he tried to kill him. Harp tell Sofiya that she is foolish to trust Leo. Leo wants Koval to give him the location of the Soviet nukes. Sofiya knows Leo’s plan and believes in it. He is going to launch a nuclear strike on the US.
Leo kills Koval and all of his men. Sofiya releases Harp. Harp is picked up by Eckhart. He tells him that Leo is not destroyed and plans to launch a nuclear strike on the US. With his chip mistakenly disabled by Harp, Harp calls Bale to track Leo’s car by drone. He goes after him.
Harp gets to the nuclear plant. Leo is already there, multiple bodies of Koval’s men evidence of that. Harp finds him preparing to launch the missiles. Leo chokes him unconscious. He returns to preparing for the launch. Bale has a lock on the silo. Eckhart radios Harp, rousing him. He tells him that the drone is locked on the plant.
Harp damages Leo with a rocket launcher. He asks why he wants to launch an attack on the US. Leo says it is the only way to stop a war. Eckhart wants to know if Leo is in the silo. They are going to strike the silo. Harp leaves the silo as Bale shoots.
Harp escapes the explosion and returns to base. He is granted leave to return home. The end.
Final thoughts: on second viewing, Outside The Wire is worse than I remembered. It is such a mess of a film and elicits scant emotion making it difficult to care about what is going on. The acting is fine from all on show but, as I said, with so little emotional involvement in proceedings it is difficult to appreciate.
The story by Rob Yescombe, who also wrote the screenplay with input from Rowan Athale, is unnecessarily complex. The villain in Asbæk’s Koval is not introduced until fifteen minutes before the end of the film and is then promptly killed. Sure, his name is bandied about and loads of atrocities are attributed to him, but in the context of the film, it does help one to know who he is.
The action scenes are surprisingly lacklustre, probably because Mackie’s Leo is an unstoppable android and everyone he attacks, fights or kills is only in the film to increase the body count. The directing by Michael Håfstrõm is competent but pedestrian, the story lacking any sort of urgency.
Watching the film for a second time was a punishment and not at all enjoyable on any level. Scoring a reasonable five-point-four on IMDB, with a nearly two-hour runtime, I can only put that down as generous. Outside The Wire was outside of my comfort zone but not in a good way. Give it a miss.