MILE 22: Featured Image from International Poster

Some point around 11 years ago, MILE 22 director Peter Berg transitioned from actor-turned-director to director of strangely patriotic portraits of obsessive Americans. There were signs earlier (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) and there have been exceptions since (HANCOCK) but, predominantly, Berg has become a complicated patriotism delivery system.

Then, five years ago, Mark Wahlberg became his muse, inhabiting hero cops (PATRIOTS DAY), hero soldiers (LONE SURVIVOR), and hero oilmen (DEEPWATER HORIZON). Wahlberg filled them all with the delightful sense that one guy, one true American, could save us all. In fact, the individual was far better for the U.S. than any team of its citizens.

Essentially Berg/Wahlberg became a somewhat more thoughtful, deeper version of Michael Bay’s increasingly cooperation-hostile worldview.

Does the trend continue here with MILE 22?

MILE 22: James "Jimmy Goes Bang Bang" Silva
Mark Wahlberg zeros in on the target in a scene from MILE 22. (Courtesy of STX Entertainment)

The Premise of MILE 22

When things get really, truly, super-duper serious in American terrorism, Overwatch rises to the occasion. On the ground, James Silva (Wahlberg) leads the team. Silva is a type you might recognize. He’s a maladaptive genius who has finally curtailed his hair-trigger temper. All it takes is thick rubber bands and intermittent opportunities to commit significant acts of state-sponsored violence.

Off-site in mission control, Bishop, aka Mother (John Malkovich sporting one of history’s greatest/fakest flattops), calls the shots and coordinates everything with the help of genius computer-types, all with chess-piece names and an array of satellites and drones.

When we first encounter them, Overwatch is coming down hard on a Russian terrorist cell. They are operating out of a suburban neighborhood. No surprise there.

Seriously, check your neighbors. If neither of the houses next door nor the one across the street contains terrorists, you know what that means? There is a very, very good chance you are the terrorist.

The mission goes awry, one of the on-ground team ends up dead, and Overwatch executes a Russian on-site.

The movie quickly cuts to a debriefing of Silva about their next mission. We see it unfold in flashback as Silva explains what went down.

The mission revolved around an Indonesian cop turned American informant Li Noor (Iko Uwais). He knows where stolen cesium — enough to make five dirty bombs — lies hidden. Unfortunately, he also says it will topple the current Indonesian government. Thus, he needs refuge in America. That ask requires Overwatch to escort him through 22 miles of hostile city to an airstrip (hence the title). Complications ensue.

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The Writing

Mile 22 is the brainchild of a screenwriter who gravitates towards military and anti-terrorism stories — Graham Roland — and an author whose only prior writing credit was for a book that was turned into a Pritzker Military Library Presents feature — Lea Carpenter. Carpenter gets solo credit for the script.

The script is as aggressive as you might expect. People talk to one another in clipped, almost nasty tones even when they are on the same team. Profanity abounds. None of it shocks.

What you might not expect is how much of a Frankenstein the script feels like. It is some sort of bizarre blend of 16 BLOCKS (Bruce Willis as an alcoholic cop tries to get a motor-mouthed Yasiin Bay across a hostile city while not knowing who he can trust), THE RAID, a specific portion of the first MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, and DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE. It certainly gets the blood pumping, but it all feels a little… hollow at times.

MILE 22: Sam Snow
Ronda Rousey is all business during a raid in MILE 22 (Courtesy of STX Entertainment)

The Leads of MILE 22

Mark Wahlberg is at his most caffeinated here. When he speaks, he talks fast and at length, rarely waiting for a response or even recognition in his conversation partner/target. He is all swaggering arrogance and barely contained rage. At one point, he sends a woman asking for asylum on a wild goose chase. We get that he doesn’t trust her but we have no idea why. Moreover, we have even less idea why he involves other foreign governments in what amounts to playing a prank on her.

He’s the kind of character who is utterly unlikable. That would be fine if, for a moment, you thought the movie got that and was doing it on purpose. Instead, you get the impression that the movie sees him as being as cool as the other side of the pillow. They’ve stumbled into a basically sociopathic anti-hero. If they could see that, they could make an interesting commentary on the nature of this kind of work. They think, though, they are telling just another tale of a driven hero who is true-blue dedicated.

Iko Uwais, in comparison, comes across as deep and complex. The movie conveys this through his constant meditating, his incredible fighting, and his hidden reasons for turning on his country. Uwais, while not particularly well-developed, has his charisma to fill in a lot of the cracks admirably. That his laid-back attitude runs up against Wahlberg’s tightly wound, alternating between grinning and grimacing portrayal of Silva does the rest.

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The Rest of the MILE 22 Call Sheet

Lauren Cohan has the somewhat thankless role of playing Alice Kerr, Silva’s second-in-command. She is a cautionary tale of what happens if a “normal” person tries to be like Silva. In the midst of a bitter divorce (her ex is played by Berg himself), she can’t seem to get anything right. She keeps losing her temper, forcing her to solely communicate with her daughter through a text-only app. It is a horrible situation and one that, as a parent, I found super scary. Of course, she finds zero sympathy for Silva who only pushes her to be even more cold, distant, and unavailable.

The rest of the mission force has little to no personality. Ronda Rousey is a tough and take-no-bullshit type as Sam Snow but that’s the only note she is given to play. Carlo Alban gets a standout scene or two as another elite member. It is the moment, though, that makes us remember him, not the character he is playing.

Malkovich is the only standout among the operations side of the story and he mostly barks. Everyone should get to take a paycheck now and then. No shame in that. The closest to any kind of showcase the rest get is King (Keith Arthur Bolden), a drone pilot who is frustrated by the repeated denials of becoming an Angel of Death from on high.

MILE 22: Alice Kerr
Lauren Cohan is locked and loaded in a scene from MILE 22. (Courtesy of STX Entertainment)

Filming

Berg is a good director. Since his jittery VERY BAD THINGS, he has grown to increasingly trust his instincts and his tools. He creates a good sense of space and time and knows how to showcase actors.

I cannot say I find his work here as compelling as in FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS or even, honestly, HANCOCK, but it still works. He conveys anxiety and claustrophobia without succumbing to distraction. He gives us a sense of the city where the movie predominantly unfolds but never falls in love with the scenery. All in all, it is a solid effort.

There is one choice, though, that I do not understand. As the film reaches its close, Wahlberg begins to monologue directly to the camera. At first, it seems he is talking to his debriefing but as it continues it becomes clear he is addressing the film’s villain. However, the angle and where his eyes are focused give the impression that he is directly addressing the audience. This is not a “we are here to indict the audience’s love of bloodshed” kind of movie. I have zero idea as to the reasoning behind this choice.

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Editing MILE 22

The film falls apart a bit in the editing bay. Favoring the now-rote quick-cut editing for fight scenes undermines the movie’s best action asset. Uwais moves quick and smooth. He deserves a wider frame and longer shots. He can be positively balletic in his violence but the film rarely, if ever, gives viewers a chance to appreciate that.

It is not as though Wahlberg cannot fight, either. You don’t need to cover up his deficiencies with quick cuts because we know from past movies that he can take and give a punch. Or, I suppose, if the picture wanted to compare and contrast their styles, they could have edited Wahlberg’s more bruiser type approach with quick cuts and Uwais with longer, more stable shots.

Regardless, the film really hurts itself by not ditching that in-vogue approach to fight editing for something that better highlights its second lead.

MILE 22: Li Noor
Iko Uwais pauses a moment to center himself after an intense fight in MILE 22 (Courtesy of STX Entertainment)

Striking the Set

I don’t hate MILE 22 despite all the shots I took at it above. Berg, as noted, is solid. Wahlberg turns in a different kind of performance, a challenging one that takes the unpleasant aspects of his past characters and blots out all the humanity he brought to prior roles. Unfortunately, as noted, the movie seems to be missing that and they continue to code him as the too-cool-for-school hero. If they had leaned into it the way Wahlberg did they could have given us a more disturbing picture of how one’s job can curdle their soul even if they are doing it for the greater good.

Additionally, which I did mention above, the movie feels strangely unfinished. The conclusion is purposely open-ended — apparently, there is a sequel script already out there. However, it lacks the kind of punch a, say, INFINITY WAR or of an EMPIRE STRIKES BACK downbeat, to-be-continued ending. It does not even deliver an air of melancholy ambiguity like UNFAITHFUL. Instead it just kind of ends with the vague promise of a sequel. There is no satisfaction or anguish in the choice.

2 Comments

  1. […] comedy starring Mark Wahlberg –who earlier this year starred in the meat-headed and reductive MILE 22 — explore this topic with any kind of nuance or thoughtfulness? Could the writer-director […]

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  2. […] comedy starring Mark Wahlberg –who earlier this year starred in the meat-headed and reductive MILE 22 — explore this topic with any kind of nuance or thoughtfulness? Could the writer-director […]

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