Outside the Wire

War movies – which of late depict US misadventures in the Middle East – are not my cup of tea.

Like my parents and grandparents (whose experience of World War II was so painful they avoided flag-waving cinema 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 it becomes a learning experience.

Outside the Wire was an unexpected pleasure, despite a panning by too-sophisticated reviewers.

The realism of modern cinema is astounding. 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.

The plot of Outside the Wire is essentially 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 clear, through increasingly convoluted steps, only in the final moments.

This quite unassuming production wastes no time explaining matters. The screenwriters, thank the gods, assume their audience knows what an “AI” is, what this means in a modern military, and that the future of infantry is robotic. Explanations proceed on a need to know basis (for the audience, that is) during the mission.

When our drone pilot Lt Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) meets his new boss , he exclaims that his enigmatic commander Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie) - who has, for a still unknown motive, deceived everyone - “He’s stronger, faster, smarter.”

In the closing minutes - after two hours of unavoidably-clichéd dialogue - Captain Leo drops the most unexpected and profound lines, and delivers to the weary consumer the exquisite pleasure of not having wasted yet more movie time:

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 that 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 II, 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.

That was never the lesson.

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

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