Movie Review: Intriguing A.I. premise goes nowhere in ‘Outside the Wire’

A drone pilot who doesn’t follow orders gets demoted to working behind enemy lines alongside advanced A.I. robo-soldiers in Outside the Wire, a new Netflix thriller that tosses it’s fascinating premise into a cookie-cutter narrative that offers few thrills and zero surprises.

Slickly directed by Mikael Håfström (1408, Escape Plan), Outside the Wire stars Damson Idris as Harp, a drone pilot working far away from the front lines of a new war in Ukraine that pits human U.S. ground forces and tanky robot fighters called Gumps against a foe that remains unseen and unnamed for the entire film (Russians?)

In the film’s opening sequence, Harp disobeys direct orders and fires drone missiles that wipe out the enemy, along with a few U.S. human soldiers. In most movies, the hero would ignore the orders to fire the missiles, and end up saving his compatriots; here, he fires away without regard for the friendly fire casualties.

After committing mass murder, Harp gets a slap-on-the-wrist demotion to the front lines, where he’ll maybe get a taste of his own medicine. But he’s matched with an android superior officer Leo (Anthony Mackie), who has a top-secret mission: go behind enemy lines, “Outside the Wire”, and, uh, save the world.

There might be a human-robot war going on, you see, but somewhere else out there a bad guy is about to get his hand on some Cold War era nuclear weapons. That would be Victor Koval, played by Game of Thrones’ Pilou Asbæk for a minute or two near the end of the movie. The bulk of Outside the Wire is a road movie with Harp and Leo on his trail through rural Ukraine (the film was actually shot on location in Hungary).

The robots on the front line are CGI creations, animated with the flair of Stan Winston’s ED-209, but for most of the movie we’re stuck with Mackie’s human-skinned android, who feels a lot more human next to our blank-slate lead.

Can Harp trust this advanced A.I. creation and save the world? If you have previously seen one science fiction movie before, you know the answer. But the big twist ending that we all see coming makes zero sense within the context of the rest of the film. The script (by Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale) plugs in all the usual beats we might expect in an action sci-fi feature, but fails to connect them in any sensible manner.

There’s a good movie somewhere in Outside the Wire, one that actually examines the morality and strategy of deploying robots against human enemies to fight our wars, but the end result here is soulless action movie entirely uninterested in exploring the complex issues it raises.

Netflix can produce excellent, thoughtful documentaries, and expensive-looking Hollywood action movies, and someday they’ll put the two together and blow our minds. But Outside the Wire is the same shell of an action movie that we’ve seen on the platform a dozen times before, and only dangles that interesting premise to hook us in.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at

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