Anthony Mackie double feature with ‘Synchronic’ and ‘Outside The Wire’

JANUARY 23 — If you’re a casual movie fan, I’m sure you’d at least be familiar with Anthony Mackie’s face, if not his name. 

He’s undoubtedly most popular as Falcon from the Captain America movies, but he’s also been in everything from Oscar winner The Hurt Locker to Michael Bay’s comedy on steroids Pain & Gain, hip hop movies like 8 Mile and even mainstream comedies like The Night Before.

Being a huge fan of directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, whose previous films Spring, The Endless and Resolution have been perennial favourites of mine, thanks to their hugely ambitious genre mashing achievements, all done on a low budget, I’ve been itching to see their latest film Synchronic (which stars Anthony Mackie) for more than a year now, ever since it first played at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019.

For whatever reasons, it took until January 12, 2021 for it to arrive on digital and VOD, which is actually quite a long time for a film to be released after making its festival rounds. But it’s here now, so I’m just happy to inally be able to watch it.

There’s more, however, as by some quirk of fate, another film starring Anthony Mackie arrived just three days later on Netflix, one by the name of Outside The Wire, so all of a sudden we’ve got an Anthony Mackie double feature on our hands to start 2021 with!

Outside The Wire

Surely the more widely seen Anthony Mackie film of the two that are opening more or less around the same time in January this year, courtesy of the fact that it’s on streaming giant Netflix, Outside The Wire is an action film that is full of ideas and good bits of social commentary about the American military mindset, the use of drones to kill people and yes, even ruminations about humanity and what it means to be human.

It’s one of those “mission movies” that’s one of the go-to formulas in war films, and this one starts with drone pilot Harp (Damson Idris) being sent to Camp Nathaniel, in a war zone somewhere in eastern Europe, as punishment for insubordination. 

Once there, he’s assigned to assist Leo (Mackie), who we’ll quickly find out is an android, but given a human face by the US military, and is apparently capable of empathy.

This being a mission movie, of course there’ll be an evil bad guy, nuclear weapons, and a possible nuclear strike on America involved, and director Mikael Hafstrom doesn’t disappoint on this front, with plenty of well-executed action scenes and even hand to hand combat scenes to quench our appetites, but it’s his failure (or maybe lack of time?) to explore the ideas part of the movie  —  the social commentary, the rumination on humanity etc  —  that sets the movie back, preventing it from becoming the great movie that it has all the potential to be, instead of the merely solid war flick that we have on our hands right now.

Synchronic

A lot fewer people will be aware of Mackie’s other new movie Synchronic, but this is the one that everyone should be trying their best to see. 

Directors Benson & Moorhead are by now well known, in genre circles at least, as filmmakers with an effortless knack for mashing up the most unlikely of genres, like making a Before Sunrise-like romance but with monsters in Spring, or a drug intervention drama but with aliens in Resolution

They’re at it again with Synchronic, making an investigative buddy movie, but with elements of enhanced perception, relativity and time travel involved.

Mackie stars as Steve, a former physics student now working as a paramedic alongside his best friend Dennis (Jamie Dornan), both starting the film while on duty and discovering a string of strange cases involving drug overdoses that no one thought would be related, until a packet of designer drugs called Synchronic keeps popping up at the scene of the crime enough times to pique Steve’s interest.

One of the best things about these films by Benson & Moorhead is that the less you know about them going in, the better off you’ll be. 

Even their trailers very rarely reveal specific plot points and usually show just enough to entice viewers to check the films out. So trust me when I say that I’m doing you a huge favour by not revealing too much about the film’s ingenious plot.

What I can tell you is that there’s that Synchronic drugs involved, some very impressive explanations on the how the drug works and its effects (done very cleverly in a show-and-don’t-tell way, unlike a certain Mr Nolan and his reams of expository dialogue to explain the high concept in Tenet), a mystery to be solved, elements of time travel, and of course the emotional core and heartbreak that has always been a vital element in the stories that this writing-directing pair have cooked up so far. 

It’s only January, yes, but one of the great films of 2021 is already here. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.