My first movie review of a movie of the new year. Not a bad start to the year where we try to heal.
Damson Idris plays Lieutenant Thomas Harp, a drone pilot for the U.S. military in 2036. Every movie set in the future makes guesses about what will be our priorities in technology and the consequences (If I had to pick the most likely one so far, it’d, believe it or not, be Ready Player One.) The one the writers of this one guessed is robots being built reliably enough to be soldiers for wars. Russia’s the enemy country here (fitting, like Angel has Fallen did) against the peaceful Ukraine (I can imagine this was filmed after the first impeachment), and when Harp decides to defy an order that leaves some dead but several alive, he’s stripped of his duty and risks prison, but he’s given a tiny second chance with an infamous military officer named Leo (Anthony Mackie). Harp realizes just about right away Leo’s not some strict bloke. He’s an android. The two of them must go through Russia, targeting a terrorist named Victor Koval from getting his hands on nuclear missile codes. And along the way, they’ll talk. They’ll conspire. Harp will get a taste for the first time of what it’s like in the field rather than behind a desk.
War movies are tricky for me. Most I’ve either loved or hated. Because war is messy. It’s layered. And it’s good for absolutely nothing, speak to me now. But sometimes they’re hollow in film form. If I had to name the perfect war movie, it would be Saving Private Ryan, a movie that makes me forget that I’m watching a movie, every single time I watch it. 1917‘s pretty awesome too. But then there’s movies like The Monuments Men, Zero Dark Thirty, Dunkirk and American Sniper, all of which are movies that have gotten a lot of praise but to me are boring, shallow, and American Sniper is those things, plus as racist as the Confederate flag and as sexist as the absolute worst gender stereotypes…boy, did I not care for that film. I hated on it so much when I watched it six years ago that I’m thinking of revisiting it to see if a movie could really be that despicable. Anyhow, what Private Ryan did was show exactly what it is like to go into a field of enemies that have the bullets, bazookas, and hatred ready to kill you. It shows terror, and bravery, and perseverance for a peaceful future. But there have been some war movies that seem to just be endless barrages of fights against the common Arab enemy, who are the most antagonized group of people in Hollywood. And they aren’t even fun. And underneath the bulletproof vests, helmets, boots and indistinguishable uniforms are characters. But so often there’s far from enough making them layered or interesting.
Outside The Wire is, thankfully, not that kind of movie. It maybe doesn’t quite deserve all the diving in I just gave to the exploration of war movies, but it’s far from encouraging wars to solve disputes. I watched it, I got what I wanted, and I was ready to move on. It’s a war movie that has the familiar and new, and as we see the guns fired and the drones counting down to missile launch and getting to safe houses we don’t fully trust, I enjoyed it well enough, and a treat was some unexpected twists that fill in whatever gap the pitchers had to say this movie fills in the industry.
Something I didn’t like was the setup. Everyone’s face when drone piloting is just completely anemic, and even though I know that job involves complete concentration, no one seems to show conflict, not even after Harp disobeys the order. I mean, he eats gummy bears. He’s not, well, a robot. If you’re trying to make him layered, you can go the next step. The second thing is he gets warned he’s about to be in hell serving under Leo, but then we meet him, and we don’t get that. Leo seems tough and carefree about the feelings of the other soldiers, but he jokes around. He lets people speak. The ending’s also a little anticlimactic.
But this movie is nothing to get too worked up about. If anything, it’s a fun little game with a small analysis of the artificial intelligence concept. The movie delivers thrills, a few surprises in between, and Mackie and Idris shine. And something that really surprised me was how pro-peace it ends up. Leo convinces both sides to stand down and just leave peacefully, ignoring the fact some people were stealing from a crashed food truck in order to get things they need. That’s something that will stick in my head. Decades of distrust between people of differing countries prevents this sort of compromise that should be used to heal ourselves. In fact, after I finished this movie, I was going for a B-. But I guess it is honestly quite better than a fair bit of films in this genre.