There is no question that the cinematic partnership between director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg has been a fruitful success. Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriot’s Day naturally roll off the tongue due to its gripping action and popularity. Their latest collaboration Mile 22, should have followed in that same footsteps, but ends up proving to be a giant miscalculation than an enjoyable achievement.
Watching Mile 22 is comparable to being slapped around the head multiple times like the Tango adverts from the early 90s. It’s a high-octane and adrenaline-fuelled action movie, but its execution is a strange, uneven and confusing film that doesn’t showcase the best of either its director or its leading star. It’s best described as a jigsaw puzzle, presenting all the engaging materials to be a satisfying and engaging watch. But once ‘assembled’, the pieces have either gone missing or bashed into place with some blunt force action that doesn’t resemble the final picture. It’s a directionless, superficial, hyper-alpha male reality of the world that ends up angrily shooting itself in the foot – multiple times.
There’s nothing special or new about its plot, portraying as the video game violence upgrade of Richard Donner’s 16 Blocks starring Bruce Willis and Mos Def. The difference is the Call of Duty-inspired utilisation of a militarised, special forces team with high-level access to drone technology and surveillance instead of an ageing alcoholic cop protecting a witness. The current, geopolitical parallels and societal threat is realised through the transportation of a highly-prized asset in Li Noor (Iko Uwais), seeking asylum for sensitive information of weapon that represents the new evolution of the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ fame. Their ‘licence to kill’ is done out of a tunnel-vision necessity without any conscious bias or doubts.
It’s easy to argue that Peter Berg can’t help but add a dose of patriotism in his films, one that celebrates human effort, strength, courage and sacrifice. Mile 22 is no different in its characterisation of James Silva (Mark Wahlberg), bleeding ‘red, white and blue’ in a Trump-like fashion. However, Berg’s latest endeavour lacks coherency and substance, let alone any signs of morality. It’s an absent adventure in comparison to the emotional resonance delivered in Lone Survivor for example. If there was an argumentative position in mirroring the fear-induced dangers of our world, its articulation transpires into a convoluted and unfinished exercise, lost in its erratic editing and pacing, or (scarily enough) wasn’t established prior to production. Lost, shallow and empty, Mile 22 doesn’t take advantage of the strength of its cast or fully understands the conceptual weight of its plot.
It revels and enjoys its toxic, machismo reality. Characters that we’re supposed to care about are stoned-faced and underdeveloped, unable to form a meaningful personality or dialogue that distinguishes between them and measured only on their clichéd toughness. Even characters such as Alice (Lauren Cohen, The Walking Dead) who tries to balance motherhood and a bitter divorce, is told to ‘man up’ as punishment for having a single shred of emotion besides anger. Characters do not necessarily have to be likeable, but depicting them all as one-dimensional does not sell the overall purpose of the film, especially when it lacks any kind resolution to take away from.
Part of Mile 22‘s problem is how the audience interprets James Silva – a “gifted” character with a mental health backstory that allows him to think faster than most people. His lapses into mania can be comical, performing quickfire monologues that could give Aaron Sorkin a run for his money. The rubber band on his wrist acts as a self-inflicted control mechanism to curb his behaviour. But Mile 22 desperately struggles to maintain any empathy for his character. This is not a Carrie Mathison (Homeland) depiction of mental health, but an examination into a self-righteous, arrogant, abrasive, berating dick which characters make excuses for. Not only is it a constant distraction but it asks questions about the agency and its wafer-thin policy as to why someone of a high-ranking command, is not medically evaluated on a regular basis.
It’s saving grace is it’s intense action scenes, clearly channelling into the realistic and choreographed violence that John Wick captured. The standout star Iko Uwais brings his trademark ferociousness that made him famous in The Raid and its sequel. But there is no escaping how Mile 22 lacks the finesse to make this entire film believable, increasingly losing momentum after its strong opener. I mean, when you have such a gifted talent in Iko Uwais who specialises in breathless, kinetic scenes, how many edits do you need to highlight a punch or a kick?
Mile 22 masquerades as a post-Summer blockbuster film that tries (and fails) to emulate the action-thriller credentials that Sicario or Heat delivers in abundance. It shouts into the void, hoping and entertaining the possibility of a franchise, but the rushed and misjudged foundations meant it never got going in the first place.
Dir: Peter Berg
Scr: Lea Carpenter and Graham Roland
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, John Malkovich, Ronda Rousey, Carlo Alban, Natasha Goubskaya and Sam Medina
Prd: Peter Berg, Eric Heffron, Mark Wahlberg and Stephen Levison
DOP: Jacques Jouffret
Music: Jeff Russo
Runtime: 94 minutes
Mile 22 is out in cinemas on 19th September.