Outside the Wire (2021): Exploring A.I. and the Cost of War

Outside the Wire (Netflix) movie large poster.

“Outside the Wire” is an enjoyable film, which is a rare thing to be said usually about films in January, though this seems to still hold true even with the pandemic changing so many release dates. Netflix is once again showing that they are willing to take risks on original sci. fi. scripts and I am here for it as though much of this film isn’t cinematic it at least has a core compelling story in relation to the characters, which makes the film enjoyable in the end.

The film was directed by Jan Mikael Håfström and written by Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale.

The story follows Lt. Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) when he is partnered with an Android Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie) to stop Nuclear War as conflict unfolds in 2036 in the Ukrainian DMZ.


The Pros:

The Premise – The idea of the United States using Gumps (robot soldiers) with human soldiers in war zones makes sense and I like how that is critiqued and explored as we get the perspective of the Russian backed resistance but also see the perspective of the soldiers and civilians experiencing the war. This is the strongest part of the film as Harp as a former drone pilot is forced to confront the human cost of each drone strike and rethink his perspective on things.

The Gumps – The Gumps have a great design. They have a head that looks like a camera and are bulky and humanoid in shape. Whether they are purely reactive or have deeper intelligence is debated as Captain Leo, the android does treat them with respect but in combat they are quicker to fire than their human counterparts. Their existence provides a nice premise that could have been explored more entirely on their own.

Col Eckhart – Michael Kelly does a great job as someone who starts out in an adversarial relationship with Lt. Harp but is willing to listen to him after Captain Leo goes rogue. He’s a complex character who is trying to act from the big picture but because of it is blinded to both Leo’s sentience and the cost of collateral in the conflict.

Captain Leo – Anthony Mackie is the heart of the film and really what makes it work. He’s a sentient android whose goal is to end war as he sees himself as the face of endless war. At his base he is utilitarian and he decides that the best way to do end the war is the nuke the United States. This reveal takes time to happen and we see him connect with people as his plan unfolds. This makes him a great antagonist and his point reminded me of Ozymandius from “Watchmen” and his plan to stop the Cold War. The one thing is I wish we’d gotten more of his perspective as we do see him treat Gumps with respect but he never mentions if they have the same sentience as him.

The Cost of War – The film starts out with Lt. Harp calling in a drone strike to stop an attack on marines, but it does lead to 2 marines dying in the attack. He’s disconnected from his actions and the people he kills in the strikes until Captain Leo is with him and they are traveling across Ukraine on the mission. This is handled well as we see him at orphanage where the kids are the survivors of those drone strikes and we also see how he’s changed with the U.S. is calling in a drone strike while is trying to protect civilians. These were some of the stronger elements of the film.


Lt. Thomas Harp – Harp is an okay protagonist but it was hard to see him as compelling. He starts out arrogant and becomes empathetic but beyond his connection to Leo and Eckhart there isn’t much more there. He mentions his fiancé a lot and gets to save the world but nothing stood out in the performance or the writing, he was just fine.

Victor Koval – Pilou Asbæk (Euron from “Game of Thrones”) plays the secondary antagonist in this as a Ukrainian Warlord wanting to bring about Nuclear war. He’s okay in the conversation with Leo but he didn’t show up prior and he barely registers as a threat in the end. He was a perspective that could have been explored but wasn’t and Pilou didn’t have the charisma in the scenes he was in to make him have a lasting impression. Still, like Harp it wasn’t a bad performance, just wasn’t memorable.

The Cons:

Pacing – This film is 2 hours long and it feels like it. I think this is largely due to it having trouble focusing on a message and trying way to hard to setup twists. This film could have had a half hour cut from the script and very little would have changed. This is really what was needed as so many of the deeper ideas weren’t explored, which would have justified the runtime.

Cinematography – The cinematography looks cheap and ugly. The colors are saturated and it ruins how some of the action scenes unfold as I had trouble knowing fully what was going on in larger gunfights. This is improved later in the film but this should have been an easy fix.

Muddled Messages – The film starts out against drones and A.I.’s in combat but in the end a drone is what saves the day and we are told Harp was right to make the call he did at the beginning. All these things make the film look like it doesn’t know what it wants to say, same with A.I. as it clearly doesn’t like the Gumps being treated unfairly but then has Leo wanting to bring about nuclear destruction. What the writers should have done was stick with one or two core themes and fully explored those.

If you are looking for a fun rental than definitely check out Netflix’s “Beyond the Wire.” This isn’t a bad film even if a lot of it doesn’t quite work. What does work and how the world itself is presented and explored is compelling enough that I did enjoy the 2 hour runtime that made up the film. This film also continues to show the amazingness that is Anthony Mackie and it is worth it for his performance alone. This film was enjoyable and I hope we continue to see more original sci. fi. films.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

“House of Cards” Season 4 – Chaotic at Times but Recaptures What Makes the Underwoods Great

House of Cards Season 4

    “House of Cards” Season 4 recaptures a lot of what made Seasons 1 and 2 so great, while recovering from the mistakes of Season 3 and refocusing the Underwoods, while still taking the bad writing of Season 3 into account and not retconning anything that happened or the characters and how they change. Seriously, this was a really enjoyable season. This was a season of consequences and if it is the last we will get of this show I like where it finally ends up.

    Beau Willimon created an amazing show and it is amazing to see everything get back on track again and use the problems of Season 3 to some purpose.


The Pros: The Soundtrack – Jeff Beal’s soundtrack continues to create great tension in this series and is easily one of the consistently great parts of this series. This was the series that got me into this composer in the first place and he continues to play on the dark and tension that so define this series.

The Cinematography – Tim Ives, Igor Martinovic and Eigil Bryld did a fantastic job with the cinematography once again. The visuals are great at capturing the isolation and paranoia of the different characters as well as the internal and external wars they all face.

The Politics – This is the heart of this show and there are some great political circumstances in this. From Russia holding back it’s oil and the U.S. sending a political refugee from Russia to China forcing Russia to deal with both of them, the election and primaries of 2016 and the war with ICO (The ISIS of this show).

The Characters – The characters are fantastic, and a lot of them complete their arcs in this season, which for me left them needing another season up in the air.

Catherine Durant – Jayne Atkinson is wonderful in this role as we see her character use her political savvy to keep herself from being stabbed in the back by Frank (after she learns that their support for her is a ploy for Claire to be nominated VP) but in the end Frank brings her in line as she got where she is through the illegal back door dealings that so define the way the Underwoods deal.

Leann Harvey – Leann is Claire’s second who helps her deal with Frank and eventually becomes both their campaign manager. She is an awesome character and shuts down Doug Stamper and his need ton control and blackmail. She’s one of my favorite minor characters and Neve Campbell is fantastic.

Seth Grayson – Seth is wonderful in this as we see him work with the Dunbar campaign as an out before he becomes fully loyal to the Underwoods again. He is a complex betrayer who in the end is fully in the boat with the Underwoods, he has a vulnerability and ruthlessness that makes him compelling.

Remy Danton and Jackie Sharp – Remy and Jackie are back and after Hammerschmidt compels him to come forward he and Jackie come forward with their relationship in order to bring down the Underwoods, as their character finally gets his redemption and out of control of the fear they have over others.

Victor Petrov – Petrov is back and Claire puts him in his place as we see that a lot of the control he claimed to have is much thinner as his people are suffering from his dying economy. He eventually realizes this and helps Claire rise to power as he respects her and Frank for their strength and power they come from. Lars Mikkelsen is fantastic once again.

Will Conway – Conway is the Republican nominee running against Frank and he is amazing. His “life” is all recorded and he has a beautiful wife and ttree kids and owns a google analogue that puts him high up on the search engine. He’s also a narcissistic and sociopath and is shown to be no better than Frank in how he treats others. Frank is actually shown to be the better person in the end as Frank and Claire are true partners, where Conway dominates and rules everyone he can’t fool with his charisma.

Tom Hammerschmidt – Tom is the reporter who pushes the house of cards to bring the Underwoods down. He’s a true believer and it’s in investigating all the deaths that he discovers how deep the Underwoods sins go. Boris McGiver is wonderful in this role and plays the genuine and awkward reporter really well who won’t cave to anyone. Sadly (but for the betterment of the story) the teeth behind his story get removed when the Underwoods declare war on ICO and use the fear of ICO to make people forget the truth that was put before their eyes.

Doug Stamper – Doug is seeking redemption on this as Seth and Leann are there for him to call him out on his controlling and fascist nature. This leads to him donating to the fund of a man whose never received a liver as he was knocked off the list so that Doug could save Frank. Michael Kelly continues to give threat and intimacy to this very dark role and I like that his character is seeking more as he is the most broken character in this series.

Claire Underwood – This season is all about how Claire deserves to rule. We see her negotiate a treaty with Russia and China and continue the Underwood power when Frank is in the coma. The Claire of Season 1 and 2 is in full force and Frank and his stupidity in 3 is finally done as they work together and even run together and President and VP against the Republicans. Robin Wright truly owns this role and she is part of what makes this show so fantastic.

Frank Underwood – Kevin Spacey is playing Frank as Frank is written out of the rut the writers put him in last season where he was only ruled by ego for self and not alliances and savvy and truly doing what it takes to dominate. In this season he starts doing that again and acting in coordination with Claire as they did in the beginning. Can’t wait to see what they do in Season 5 as he sets up ruling through fear as he brings full on war against ICO to distract from Tom’s article on the level of darkness he’s committed to get to where he is now as President of the United States.

Frank’s Coma Visions – The coma visions are haunting as we see Frank haunted by the people he’s killed and being hunted down. There is an element of violence and sex to all of it which captures the character and the show really well.

Means to an End – Claire and Frank are all about means to an end, both in their partnership and in how they rule. We got to see this again as they got over acting chaotic selfish stupid rather quickly, which in the end made this season great.

The Cons: Underwood v. Underwood – This was stupid, both of them were way to smart to not work together and help each other rise in power. Season 3 Frank is still around for the first few episodes though and they address this with him going into a coma after an assassination attempt from one of the journalists he wronged and from that he and Claire going for the President and VP together and back to the old partnership they had before.

Obvious Manipulations – Frank has some obvious manipulations that blow up into his face and this was the only writing issue that came up. His manipulation of his Secretary of State was a bit too obvious.

Getting Back on Track – The cons of Frank realizing that Claire is his partner and her leaving really wasn’t needed. They were both supposed to be smarter than that and seeing them acting stupid for drama to make this happen (the reason for having to get back on track in thef first place) was a con for this season. It shouldn’t have had to happen in the first place.

   It was really dealing with the filler and problems in Season 3 that slowed down the Season early on as the first 4 episodes were dealing with the consequences of having written Frank Underwood as stupid and not even having social savvy to deal with the partnership with his own wife, which had been a partnership in Season 1 and 2. All my cons nearly all directly relate to correcting those issues that were in Season 3 that had to be fixed in order to get on track. I highly recommend this season and if this ends up being the end, it will be great way to end it all…though I would like to see the Underwood Triumphant, which we are on the way to with them playing their nuclear option at the end, making sure that no matter how the chaos and fear unravel, they will come out on top. This season could have been the end, but I’m glad that the show was renewed for a Season 5. The Underwoods can still win it all.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10