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Anthony Mackie and his robot officer in Outside the Wire Image: Netflix

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Get your first look at Anthony Mackie’s new sci-fi thriller, Outside the Wire

Yes, that’s a robot

Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Anthony Mackie is a real-deal, raw-energy, slick-as-hell movie star. But in the year 2020, being a star means finding him everywhere: in theaters, on TV, and in the nebulous middle-ground of streaming. Even before he clicked into the Marvel universe as Falcon and became a big name, Mackie was an actor who brought that classic early-20th century charisma and crackle to a role — think Carey Grant and Humphrey Bogart. And in recent years, filmmakers have infused that old-school persona in heightened scenarios. His role in Altered Carbon season 2 made the show even more of a neo-noir; his turn in this year’s Synchronic was downright Oscar-worthy, if the Oscars paid attention to small, sci-fi crime thrillers.

This is all to say: Mackie can say a tremendous amount without saying much of anything. So it’s a delight to debut a set of exclusive, new photos from his upcoming Netflix film, Outside the Wire. Set in the not-too-distant future, Mackie plays Harp, an android military officer fighting in a futuristic conflict. On the ground, he meets a drone pilot named Leo, and enlists the young cadet for an important mission: locate a doomsday device before the insurgents do. You don’t say no to your robo-boss.

A shadowy figure crosses the barracks in Outside the Wire Image: Netflix
Damson Idris as Harp and Anthony Mackie as Leo walk through a crowd of soldiers while holding helmets and guns in Outside the Wire
Damson Idris as Leo and Anthony Mackie as Harp
Photo: Jonathan Prime / Netflix

Along with Mackie, the film stars Damson Idris (Snowfall, Black Mirror), Emily Beecham (Into the Badlands, Hail, Caesar!), Michael Kelly (House of Cards, Jack Ryan), Pilou Asbæk (Game of Thrones, Overlord). Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale, who previously worked on The Division game, wrote the script, which delves into an area of high-tension futurism that grabbed director Mikael Håfström (1408, Escape Plan).

“It’s this kind of close, future around the corner story, I’ve always liked,” Håfström told Polygon via email. “Certain aspects of the story were things that we hadn’t seen yet but that we could sort of imagine if we just took today’s technology and pushed it a little bit more forward 20, 30 years or so.”

While Håfström wouldn’t reveal too much of where the plot of Outside the Wire goes, he does emphasize how vital it was to match Mackie with an actor who could bring the same level of dimension. And he was blown away by Idris.

“There were a lot of good young actors reading for this part,” he said. “There were a few that I really liked but suddenly I had a Zoom meeting with this guy Damson, that I actually hadn’t really heard about before or knew anything about really. After like one minute, I just knew somehow this is Harp, this is him. The humor, the charisma, the way that he embraced the part, the way he thought about Harp the character, his backstory, where he came from. He’s a very thoughtful man, Damson. He’s very clever and has a great sense of humor which, to me, is very important, too.”

Pilou Asbæk gets in the face of Anthony Mackie in Outside the Wire
Damson Idris (Snowfall, Black Mirror), Emily Beecham (Into the Badlands, Hail, Caesar!) stand next to each other in battle gear
Michael Kelly crosses his arms and stares a soldier down in Outside the Wire
Anthony Mackie looking super handsome and stoic in outside the wire Photos: Jonathan Prime / Netflix

Idris was humbled to get the part, and be able to throw himself into the action alongside an actor of a certain caliber.

“Mackie’s been working in the business for a long time and he’s great at what he does,” Idris said. “I’m a new young actor in the game, still learning, and he taught me so much about what it means to work on movies of this magnitude. About how amazing it is to connect with people from different corners of the world. To be on Netflix alongside Mackie is such an amazing thing, because I know it’s going to hit so many different living rooms.”

While it’s not clear yet how identity factors into the ticking clock story of Outside the Wire, if it all, the potency of having two Black leads starring opposite each other in a techno-thriller is not lost on the relative newcomer.

“It’s incredibly encouraging, and inspirational to many young actors and people out theres,” Idris said. “It was definitely something we were aware of. It was beautiful to be given the opportunity to step into.”

Outside the Wire arrives on Netflix on Jan. 15, 2021.