Tag Archives: C

OUTSIDE THE WIRE

Producers: Ben Pugh, Erica Steinberg, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Anthony Mackie and Jason Spire   Director: Mikael Håfström   Screenplay: Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale   Cast: Anthony Mackie, Damson Idris, Enzo Cilenti, Emily Beecham, Henry Garrett, Michael Kelly, Kristina Tonteri-Young and Pilou Asbaek   Distributor:  Netflix  

Grade: C

Replication is a major aspect of Mikael Håfström’s futuristic war movie in which a human soldier is reluctantly partnered with a super-powered android.  That sort of unlikely pairing is a Hollywood staple, and “Outside the Wire” embraces the template.  It tries to massage the cliché by toying with some substantive matters, but never really says anything of any depth about them.  Nor is it exciting enough to escape the status of a medium-grade action flick.  Still, it might be enough to satisfy people craving a helping of bombs and bombast.

The script is set in 2036, when continuing conflict in Ukraine has led to the introduction of a U.S. “peacekeeping” force to separate pro-Russian separatists, led by the ruthless Viktor Koval (Pilou Asbaek), from Ukrainian forces.  Lt. Thomas Harp (Damson Idris), a cocky drone pilot situated in a comfortable suite of monitors back in the States, decides to reject direct orders not to engage in a firefight where a troop of Marines have come under assault and two of them are in imminent danger.  He fires his weapons, allowing the others to escape at their expense.

An ethics committee that takes up the issue of his insubordination does not discharge Harp, but  assigns him to combat duty in Ukraine under the command of Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), a super-advanced “gump,” or android soldier.  Most of the older-model gumps are just skeletal metallic machines, but Leo looks human, with a face designed to be reassuring to those with whom he negotiates. 

But despite that surface, Leo’s tough as nails, impatient at watching civilians like orphanage director (and resistance leader) Sofiya (Emily Beecham) caught in the middle and ready to take more direct action against Koval than his superiors support. The situation is fraught since Koval is near to acquiring access to the launch codes for Soviet-era nuclear missiles still in Ukrainian silos.

So Leo and Harp will go “outside the wire,” beyond the permitted boundaries, during the first mission Harp accompanies the captain on—an ostensibly humanitarian vaccine delivery.  In a series of confrontations they extract information about Koval’s whereabouts from his confederates, and eventually gain control of the launch codes—in the process teaching Harp about the real human cost of the drone strikes he has previously only thought about in abstract, remote terms.

That leads to some twists in the final act, however, as questions are raised about the tendency of an entrenched military establishment to perpetuate wars rather than ending them and the promise (or danger) of advanced A.I. to act in unexpected ways.  These are intriguing issues, but unfortunately the script addresses them in a way designed to allow for some empty pyrotechnics rather than to stimulate serious thought about them.

The narrative blandness is matched by the uninteresting visual palette—various shades of grey—crafted by production designer Kevin Phipps and cinematographer Michael Bonvillain.  Editor Rickard Krantz and composer Lorne Balfe add some zest to the action scenes that Håfström, his stunt coordinators and effects team have contrived, but the expository material generates little tension or suspense, and the director elicits surprisingly perfunctory performances from Mackie and Idris, while encouraging Asbaek to chew the scenery as contrast.  Beecham merely glowers, and the remainder of the supporting cast is no more than adequate. 

One’s left with the feeling that had screenwriters Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale been encouraged to develop their script in a more imaginative fashion and Håfström  had drawn subtler work his stars, “Outside the Wire” could have been genuinely provocative.  As it is, though, the result is just an average sci-fi action movie with a lot less on its mind than it might have had.    

THE WAKE OF LIGHT

Producer: Renji Philip   Director: Renji Philip   Screenplay: Renji Philip   Cast: Rome Brooks, Matt Bush, William Morton, Tyler Steelman, Sandra Seeling, Paula Rhodes, Avery Quinn Moss and Lincoln Bodin    Distributor: Axispacific Filmworks

Grade: C-

Renji Philip’s film—slender in both running-time and emotional weight—carries a note of thanks to Werner Herzog in the credits, but what the renowned director might have had to do with encouraging its auteur is unclear.  In any event “The Wake of Light” comes off as a slight, affected quasi-romance with a message of redemption at its core.  (It opens, one should note, with a Scriptural quotation, and includes a sequence of its protagonist visiting a church, but whether one should call it “faith-based,” except in a very muted sense, is questionable.)

The central character is Mary (Rome Brooks), a twenty-something resident of a small town (the film was shot around Sutter Creek, California).  She lives in a remote house on the outskirts of town with her father (William Morton); he’s a widower, partially incapacitated by a stroke, whom she has taken care of for years.  (There are recurrent gauzy flashbacks to the time when, as a child played by Avery Quinn Moss, she found him lying in a field.) 

They live mostly on her father’s disability income, it seems, but Mary also makes a bit of money by selling bottles of water from their backyard pump in town.  It’s while on her rounds that she meets Cole (Matt Bush), an amiable fellow from Virginia on a trip to Sand Flats in Utah whose car has broken down outside of town. A chipper, endlessly chatty guy who says “Cool” and “Awesome” a lot, he buys a bottle of water from Mary and says it’s the best he’s ever tasted.

That’s the beginning of a brief encounter in which she shows him the well, brings him over for dinner, introduces him to her dad’s pet rabbit, and invites him to sit with her and her father in law chairs to watch the sunset.  She also takes him on a hike to visit her favorite spot in the wilderness.

But though he eventually asks her to come away with him, she refuses.  He accuses her of using her father as an excuse for not moving ahead with her life (a fact her father, suddenly able or willing to speak, seconds) and leaves, only to come back later; he can’t stay, though, because—as we learn—there’s something he’s running away from back home.  Apparently this has been a journey of discovery for both, although in the end Mary remains where she started, enjoying an impromptu Fourth of July meal with her father and their neighbors, little Russell (Tyler Steelman) and his mom Laura (Sandra Seeling).  If this is meant to add a note of newfound independence to the mix, that’s not made clear.

Though at under eighty minutes “The Wake of Light” barely constitutes a feature, it’s terribly padded—mostly with elongated montages in which Mary and Cole talk comfortably with one another; of course we don’t hear what they’re saying, because the soundtrack instead gives us reams of sappy music composed by Josh Mancell, filled with tinkling piano riffs by Josh Kramer—an all-too common dodge to avoid writing meaningful dialogue.

The performances by Brooks and Bush are wildly different; she’s moody and quiet, he’s a bundle of phony enthusiasm.  The only other actor of consequence is Morton, who mostly lumbers about in a bathrobe, though tyke Steelman is irritatingly energetic (he’s apparently meant to be somewhere on the spectrum).  Rainer Lipski’s camerawork has a tendency to strain for a ruggedly painterly look, while Matthew Diezel’s editing is slack. 

One imagines that Philip hopes that his film will seem quietly profound.  But it only feels uncomfortably pretentious.