Few directors can match the bone-shaking intensity that Peter Berg packs into his action movies. His new action-thriller, Mile 22, takes Berg’s gritty, explosive, and in-your-face style and pushes it to its breaking point. If you’re a fan of Berg’s movies – or ever wondered what it’s like to pass through a warzone – Mile 22 should put a big silly grin on your face. But if you prefer action flicks with a touch more…. restraint, then you may want to jump ahead to mile 23.
Mile 22 finds Hollywood tough guy Mark Wahlberg once again playing an intellectual. As a child, his character James was smarter than kids his own age. But James’ over-clocked brain also made it tough for him to play nice with others. Even as an adult, dealing with James remains a problem. Now, he’s an “elite American intelligence officer” in charge of the country’s most bad-ass tactical command unit. They tackle high-stakes missions and take out national security threats without breaking a sweat. Literally. They’re so cool under pressure that their heart rates barely increase during missions.
The film’s villains get hold of a weapon capable of causing untold mayhem. The weapon is an easy to smuggle powder with the destructive capability of a nuclearized strike. A mystery man (Iko Uwais) arrives on the American embassy’s doorstep claiming to have the weapon’s locations. He’s won’t reveal exactly where until he’s sitting on a plane headed to America. Making matters worse, his intel sits on a disk that will self-destruct in 8-hours if his demands aren’t met. James’ mission is to escort the asset out of the country by travelling “22 miles” to a secure airstrip. But of course, it can’t be that simple and desperate villains lay siege to James’ team every inch of the way.
It’s great that Mile 22 only clocks in at 95-minutes because I don’t know how much more sensory overload its audience could take. Once the action kicks off in the second act the film keeps ramping up. It plows ahead like a meth-fueled rhino, never slowing down to catch its breath. I’m talking about an hour-long siege of gunshots, explosions, and screeching tires. If you paid to see an action movie, you’ll get your money’s worth two times over. There’s one big caveat: Berg uses a distinct editing style that people love or hate. If you don’t mind his hyper-kinetic rhythms than Mile 22 is cinematic bliss. If you’re not a fan of the film’s herkie jerky style, bring something along to numb your pain.
Storytellers like Berg are the reason people coined the term “Edge of your seat.” Berg infuses each action sequence with off-the-charts intensity. Mile 22 is less concerned with dramatic conflict than putting the pedal to the floor and getting your blood-pumping. Lea Carpenter and Graham Rolan’s script does an adequate job setting the stage for the film’s violent, exhilarating, and inventive action sequences. DOP Jacques Jouffret’s camera bobs and weaves throughout the action with boxer-like finesse before swooping in for maximum visual impact. Berg likes to zoom in ultra-tight on breaking bones, bullet wounds, and actors’ sweaty faces.
The bloody, fast-paced, and hard to track style disrupts the impressive action-choreography. At their best, tense moments almost play out like they were shot by an over-caffeinated Sergio Leone. But too often, an over-reliance on quick cuts and tight close-ups disrupts the flow of the action, kills a sequence’s momentum, and masks the stunt team’s incredible work. Berg jumps from shot to shot at the speed which hummingbirds flap their wings.
Uwais delivers a high-octane flurry of fists and feet that will please his fans. And if you’ve never had the pleasure of watching this action phenom work you’re in for a treat. Uwais isn’t here for his acting chops. Though his English continues to improve his job here is to kick all kinds of ass. He somehow manages to shine despite Berg’s choppy editing style dicing up his graceful foot-fist ballet. There’s a standout sequence where he’s cuffed in a medical area and forced to fight off two would-be assassins. His cat-like reflexes and innovate attacks are a sight to behold. Uwais’ elite physical skills put his performance on a level above what most action movie stars deliver. And once he levels-up his English he could be a force in American action movies.
Everything else in Mile 22 is inconsequential. Absorbing the plot is like learning the name of the passengers riding with you on a roller-coaster; shut up, don’t think, look ahead, and scream. The story plays out in a series of flashbacks that James narrates. Wahlberg and Cohan’s characters receive minor backstories revealing how messed up they are which don’t make their hardened soldiers feel any more sympathetic. The problem is that no one in this film feels like a human being. Wahlberg swings for the fences with his stilted performance. His character, James, is a combination of Rain Man and Jason Bourne. And he’s prone to Nic Cage-calibre tirades. Even James’ overwatcher, Bishop (John Malkovich) tells him to, “Stop f#<king monologuing.” At least Mile 22 is aware of its own silliness.
Perhaps it’s due to life in 2018, but a film featuring advanced government tech hasn’t bothered me this much in 20 years – I’m looking at you Enemy of the State. When James’ team takes out a group of unsuspecting terrorists it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The terrorists pack their safehouse like roaches but James’ overwatch team clocks them all from outside by using drones, hidden cameras, and thermal imagery. When the tactical team burst through the door the battle is all but over. Considering the roles computers, smartphones, and the internet play in our lives, the overwatch team possesses god-like power. Here’s the scariest part: none of the tech in Mile 22 seems like a stretch. That these tools are out there right now, in the hands of both sides is a menacing thought.
Berg delivers a relentless assault on your eyes, ears, and your endurance. Most frustrating, though, is that Mile 22 has the right ingredients for a Great Action Movie. And yes, that’s with a capital G, A, and M. There are a few great moments sprinkled throughout this bonkers flick; Uwais kicking ass; Wahlberg’s lunacy; Malkovich’s artful deployment of the word “F#<k.” The film touches on some complex ideas about our role in the terrorism cycle but it’s only lip-service. It’s too busy revelling in headshots and grenade blasts to speak with any moral clarity. By the end, Mile 22 plays out like a round of Call of Duty: brash, thrilling, and forgotten once the game ends.