The team of actor Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg is responsible for filling a specific niche in the film industry: patriotic movies. From Lone Survivor to Patriots Day, the duo concerns themselves with making serious political dramas emphasizing the virtues of America. They continue this thematic streak with Mile 22. Unlike their previous efforts, however, the duo’s project elicits neither critical acclaim nor box-office success. It’s currently only made $31 million worldwide, which is a significant loss when you weigh it against the estimated $35 million budget. Were people right to stay away from this one or does it deserve more?
The premise is simple. James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) and his black ops team must escort Indonesian police officer Li Noor (Iko Uwais) to an airstrip 22 miles away. Standing in there way is an army of local police who want their traitorous officer back.
That sounds like a good idea for a no bullshit action film, and it is. The problem is that the film has aspirations of being an espionage film AND a military drama. There’s conspiracy, twists, and turns and none of them make a ton of sense. The twist at the end is probably the worst decision of the film. It turns the entire story up to that point into a convoluted mess that perhaps didn’t even need to happen. While I understand the logic behind the twist, I believe that there were so many more entertaining ways this could’ve happened (trying not to spoil).
The bewildering story, however, is only half the issue. The other problem is, everything else. The dialogue consists of monologues about how diplomacy gets in the way of the team getting things done. It all sounds clunky. Kind of like a film student’s first attempt at writing dialogue after he discovered Ben Shapiro. When the script tries to be witty and have banter between characters, they force delivery, aren’t funny, and frankly painful to hear. This could be in part because the characters are all either unlikable or unmemorable.
Silva, in particular, is an obnoxious, self-impressed douchebag. He feels the need to condescendingly mansplain to anybody he feels is stupid or slow. It’s somewhat troubling because he seems to be the moral mouthpiece of the film. This is the character we’re supposed to agree with ideologically. I also found the theme of the film troubling. The idea is that Silva’s super secret soldier squad is the last chance the US government has at getting things done. The film flat out states they’re so successful because they answer to nobody but themselves. When you present a military ops team with no accountability as a good thing, it’s a bit worrisome.
The technical side isn’t much better either, but there are a few decent action scenes. The sound design for the gunshots and explosions gives a satisfying punch. Some imaginative scenarios allow for unorthodox gunfights. Iko Uwais continues to be a sight to behold as a martial artist. Since he is the co-choreographer of the film, he gets to do a lot of creative, hard-hitting, kitchen sink combat that stands as some of the most brutal stuff you’ll see in an action movie this year. It’s just a shame that you can’t see any of it.
If you want to get a sense of what the camerawork is like, try imagining Michael J. Fox is the cinematographer for a Michael Bay movie. And then somebody determined to make the audiences’ eyes hurt edited the footage. I haven’t seen a lot of action films with a shaky cam recently, so it was only with Mile 22 that I was reminded why I hate it so much.
I understand the desire to create audience immersion, and I believe the handheld camera is an excellent way to do it. It worked to significant effect in Saving Private Ryan and The Raid. However, when it comes to this, you need to know how much is too much. If I don’t have a sense of the scene geography, who’s winning the fight, or even who’s punching whom then you’ve used too much of a good thing. And if you combine that with close-up shots in poorly lit environments that only last for a second, you have an incoherent mess.
Mile 22 Overall:
Mile 22 is annoying because there’s a lot of potential for a good movie. An accomplished cast, a competent director, a simple premise. However, it’s all wasted with a bad script, bad cinematography, and unused potential. Not a horrible experience, but an ultimately boring and disappointing one. Mile 22 is still in theaters for those wanting to check it out.