Outside the Wire

War movies – by which I mean depictions of military adventures in the Middle East this century – are not my cup of tea.

Like my parents and grandparents (whose experience of World War Two was so painful they avoided flag-waving cinematic reconstructions of Allied victory for the rest of their lives) I avoid watching actors portray the grinding futility of patriots fighting ill-defined enemies in misbegotten foreign wars.

But when action is futuristic in a fictional scenario the paradigm switches to a learning experience, unless wallowing in misconceived glory as a cynical military recruitment flick.

Outside the Wire [Outside the Wire – Wikipedia ] was an unexpected pleasure, despite the panning by overly-sophisticated reviewers.

The realism of modern cinema astounds me, despite a technological and media background. So, as expected, I had no idea what was a real robotic grunt and what, if any, was a physical mock-up. It all flowed seamlessly as a new unreality for my eyes to wonder at.

The plot of Outside the Wire will seem uninspiring. Perhaps deliberately so.

An ice-cold drone pilot makes a decision that correctly balances collateral against strategic gain. As purported punishment for disobeying orders, he’s sent to a real war zone. But, no, he’s there for a reason that becomes, through increasingly convoluted steps, clear only as the movie concludes.

This quite unassuming production wastes no time explaining matters. The screenwriters, thank the gods, assume their audience knows what an “AI” is, and what this implies to the modern military. And that the future of infantry is robotic. But it wisely condescended to that compulsory scene when the central character meets his new boss who quickly reveals himself as an artificial human soldier, a new generation of ‘robotic’ warfare. Thereafter, explanations proceed on a need to know basis (for the audience, that is) during the mission.

For, as our naïve drone pilot Lt Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) exclaims in retrospect about his enigmatic commander who has, for a still unknown motive, deceived everyone: “He’s stronger, faster, smarter.”

In the closing minutes of this apparently pedestrian but otherwise polished movie, Anthony Mackie’s Captain Leo drops the most unexpected and profound lines in two hours of unavoidably-clichéd dialogue, and delivers to the weary consumer of JAWMs (Just Another War Movie) the exquisite pleasure of not having wasted yet another interlude beyond the real world:

Harp: “Why are you doing this, Leo?”

Leo: “Remove the humanity, increase the fight. Machine versus machine. The world’s first use of a fully autonomous cyborg backfires. I have to destroy the monster. Destroy myself. My creator. The US (USA). They need to understand that these wars must end, and I am the face of never-ending war.”

The logic is so obvious with capitalism. Create a demand and sell to it. While ever the lords of war are shareholders in the military industrial complex, do we imagine war will ever end?

It’s an obscenity for workers to subsist on defence contracts while their sisters and brothers in the military ensure demand meets supply.

The greatest lesson of World War Two, in which 80 million people died, seems to be what a marvellous boost to science and technology it was, and the thanks we owe to military research for our wonderful modern toys.

It’s a rare film that makes one mull such complexities.