Mile 22 | Peter Berg | August 17th, 2018
Director Peter Berg has created a fairly impressive resume of plot-driven action films over the past decade. His choice of actors for many of his recent projects almost always includes Mark Wahlberg. He’s directed Wahlberg as a sort of modern-day every-man action hero in Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day, and Lone Survivor. Wahlberg’s characters under Berg are hardly “average Joes”, but they’re also somewhat grounded in reality. That consistency ends with his latest action effort, Mile 22.
Wahlberg stars as CIA operative James Silva. During an opening credit montage, we’re told that James Silva was a troubled orphan with a borderline personality disorder who eventually gets recruited by the government. He is erratic, bombastic, crass, and frankly…annoying. Apparently, though, he’s good at killing people, so he’s turned into an asset of “Overwatch”; a secret CIA program that deals in espionage and “doesn’t technically exist”. During the opening scene, we’re introduced to Silva and his team, including Alice (The Walking Dead‘s Lauren Cohan), Sam (Ronda Rousey), and their boss “Mother” (John Malkovich).
Fast forward a few months, and the Overwatch team are stationed in Indonesia. Alice has been grooming a local law enforcement officer named Li (The Raid‘s Iko Uwais). After Li’s intelligence seems compromised during a mission, he voluntarily brings himself to the CIA center to turn himself over to Alice and the team. He has one demand: He wants out of the country immediately. He explains that he has information on a group of Russian operatives who have stolen cesium and plan to use it in an attack. Li carries in an encrypted hard drive with the cesium’s location, but will only unlock the drive once he is on a plane out of the country. Cue Wahlberg and his team to escort Li 22 miles to the airport across town.
To get across the city, they need to get past Indonesian police and Russian operatives that are trying to stop their mission. The film finally gets going once Wahlberg and company start driving, but it’s partly too little, too late. The film is a brisk 90 minutes, and it takes almost half that time to actually get to the streets of Indonesia. So, the audience is left with a movie that feels half-baked.
The hand-to-hand combat choreography is fantastic in an early scene with Li fighting off some corrupt policemen in a hospital room, but the rest of the film isn’t nearly as competently filmed or edited. There are certainly crowd-pleasing action tropes and bone-crunching battles. However, a majority of the action scenes are sloppy, and during hand-to-hand combat, it’s a genuine struggle to pick out who is who. Berg has a distinct style to the way he films action. Intense close-ups, handheld shots, and zooms are his calling card. Those stylistic choices are still in his wheelhouse, but he has added the dreaded “shakycam” to Mile 22.
Wahlberg’s co-stars get a little characterization, but not enough to really care about what happens to them during the course of this brisk run time. Wahlberg and Cohan do their best to elevate the script, but they’re both supposed to be “damaged” people trying their best to outlive their job and situation. It doesn’t entirely work. Wahlberg narrates the story in nihilistic flash-forward interviews with his superiors. It seems like Peter Berg wants to say something about the changing nature of war, and what that can do to someone. The problem is that Berg says nothing new about these types of career military operatives. There’s nothing profound to be said here – unlike, say, Jeremy Renner’s bomb tech in The Hurt Locker.
While the film is grating due to Berg’s direction, the story and the script are a mess. Mark Wahlberg hasn’t played a character this aggressive since The Departed. At least in that film, you could root for his character. Silva is a mean-spirited, cynical bully who has almost no redeemable qualities. We’re supposed to be in awe of his erratic behavior and cocky devil-may-care attitude, but it comes across as nasty and unnecessary. I’m all for flawed characters who are hard to love, but there needs to be something under the surface other than, “he’s a sociopath lolz”. Silva has a rubber band on his wrist that “centers” him when he’s getting too heated. He’s shown pulling on this zoomed in rubber band more times than I could count. Another “quirk” of the character that just ended up being an irritating occurrence.
While there are two or three entertaining action sequences in Mile 22, the film has an ultimately anti-climactic finale with revealed “twists” and an unwelcome franchise cliffhanger appears. It’s one of the most frustrating endings to a movie I’ve sat through in a long time. If you’re going to set up a franchise, your first film should still stand on its own with a solid story. Once Mile 22 ends, it feels more like a trailer for a movie that might never be made, which is an insult in itself. Just like The Mummy last summer, Mile 22, on its surface, doesn’t earn or deserve a franchise, let alone a sequel.