Synopsis – An elite American intelligence officer, aided by a top-secret tactical command unit, tries to smuggle a mysterious police officer with sensitive information out of the country.
My Take – While audience around the world continue to gobble up the brilliant fights sequences and stunning choreography of this summer’s Tom Cruise led Mission: Impossible – Fallout, despite its nonsensical plot (who am I kidding I loved that film), director Peter Berg‘s latest release seemed like the right kind of film to continue the trend to satisfy adrenaline fans like myself who are always on a look for thrills to come in any form. Considering here director Berg was collaborating for the fourth time with Mark Wahlberg, in films I personally liked, to bring in his trademark feral blood lust, I was excited.
While the film delivers on the action, not shying around the destruction and violence to really bring the adrenaline thrilled themes it promised, while also being a perfect vehicle for its star, however despite all that the film is just an insipid bore. The pairs previous films together, which included the Afghanistan war biopic Lone Survivor, the oil disaster docudrama Deepwater Horizon, and Boston bombing recreation Patriots Day, were somber, ripped-from-the-headlines portraits of Americans thrust into life-threatening situations, yet enjoyable, but this film adds a level of Hollywood hokum to a very known formula, all in an attempt to kick-start a Mission Impossible inspired franchise for its producer/star. Yet in almost all respects, especially structurally, the film fails to be an exciting.
The story follows James Silva (Mark Wahlberg), an elite government operative who is part of a third option of government intervention. In the sense, if diplomacy and military presence don’t work, Ground Watch and Over Watch, two sides of the same team, are called in. The former is led by Silva and consists of members like Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) and Sam Snow (Ronda Rousey), who are the boots on the ground with guns, and shoot to kill, while the latter is the tactical side, always stationed 2,000 miles away from wherever Silva and his crew are, and are led by James Bishop (John Malkovich).
The Ground Watch team members are called “Child” and they call Bishop “Mother” and when the film opens, they are working together to wipe out a sleeper cell of KGB agents in suburban America, but the mission goes sideways. A year later, as the team is stationed in a South East Asian country, Li Noor (Iko Uwais), a special-forces officer of the country walks into the U.S. Embassy claiming to have valuable Intel on the stolen Caesium-137, the U.S. forces have been hunting for, but he’ll only provide the pass codes to his drive after being granted safe passage to U.S. soil. Therefore, Silva and his team must get Noor from the Embassy to the extraction point where a plane awaits them, that is 22 miles away. Of course, they will encounter some resistance along the way, as the travel route gets invaded by assassins, and another paramilitary group that will stop at nothing to kill Li Noor and stop Over Watch.
This type of narrative simplicity would be refreshing only if the film wasn’t so pleased with its glib analysis of the military industrial complex and thrilled by the brutality it portrays. While intensity and tension and violence and gun play and fighting and chase scenes are jam-packed into a relatively short run time, the opening sequence is the closest thing we get to something that fits into a well-written espionage thriller. Given the simple yet effective framework of director Berg and Wahlberg’s previous collaborations, the spectacular failure of this film, feels like even more of a disappointment. While that plot does sound fun on paper the execution is where the film does a belly flop. Not only is this film starving for genuine thrills but it’s also one that takes itself too seriously despite being a substandard Mission Impossible knockoff. A good spy film will build tension, raise the stakes and render characters we care about under Berg’s direction we get none of those elements. Instead we have a framing device with Silva being debriefed after the mission.
Here, a fast talking James Silva, who can explode with his mania personality at any given moment, is explaining why they do the important work they do and why they did the important work they did and why it’s important that we understand the work is important. He is hard with his team apparently because they can barely keep up. Especially Alice, who is struggling with a divorce and custody battle, but James informs her that she is distracted and will lose sight of their job. Then, there is a sub plot of a Russian terrorist that are on a plane with an agenda as they watch surveillance of this escort on Li Noor. There’s little clarity in the sequence of events – the film lurches on from one mundane set piece to another without really giving us much information to care about, despite the lingering mystery behind why everyone wants Li dead.
The film ends on a cliffhanger that leaves the fate of some characters unknown and the audience wondering “That’s it?” It’s like the films thinks that somehow the audience wants more when the characters were barely explored and the action was generic at best. There is literally no character development and no resolution to any of the conflicts in the film, none! Every conflict that occurs in the film isn’t solved, either because the film is too short to be able to cover any exposition for it, or because the film wants to shamelessly set up a sequel to help flesh out this poorly written story that the audience is apparently supposed to care about.
The biggest offender is James Silva itself, who director Berg seemed determined to make unlikable. The film wastes absolutely no time in telling you that, as a child prodigy, he’s smarter than anyone could ever hope to be, and they try too hard to balance this by making him annoying, brash, and anger-driven. Jimmy Silva, who barrels into every conversation like it’s a waste of his precious time, gives his shit-talking Departed lieutenant a run for his money in the testiness department. When one of his teammates, Sam Snow, sits down to celebrate her birthday the day before a big operation, Jimmy knocks the dessert out of her hands: “No fucking birthday cake.” Later, he lectures his tech team about the stakes of a mission by reciting from memory passages from John Hersey’s Hiroshima. “He doesn’t like computer people,” Sam explains to the desk jockeys, before adding, “Fucking nerds.”
I feel this wouldn’t be as big a problem if it were anyone else, but as someone who’s front-and-center in almost every scene, this gets old fast. There’s also no third act to speak of, to the point where it’s unclear whether that’s purely a product of shameless franchise aspirations or some hasty editing-room reconfiguration. The ads for the film promised something like a mix of Mad Max: Fury Road and The Raid: Redemption, but the quick edits undercut any power the film might have had. Even though I do think the chase scene was pretty solid, as were the two set pieces that precede it, but it’s all just an excuse for director Berg to show off his technical prowess. Director Berg, a filmmaker capable of effectively placing his roving camera in chaotic situations, has been freed to explore all his visual tics here, and the experience is numbing. In the opening sequence, he cuts between Russians in a suburban safe house, agents approaching the perimeter, Silva watching outside, and Bishop’s team at their desks while incorporating security camera footage, aerial drone photography, and shots of the characters’ heart rates. If incoherence was the goal, well, mission accomplished. Maybe, if you squint hard enough, you may find some perverse entertainment this film’s patently absurd world, well I didn’t.
While Mark Wahlberg gives his most nakedly self-indulgent performance in years, he is certainly miscast in the role. Wahlberg, who also serves as a producer here, has created a star vehicle for himself that lets him shoot people, save lives, and yell his head off. But by mixing his chatty energy and his man of action shtick, he’s shot himself in the foot with his own comically large tactical rifle. John Malkovich is also campy as hell in a role that doesn’t ask him to do much more than shout lines into the air so they can be transmitted around the world. Long familiar to fans of The Walking Dead will be pleased to see Lauren Cohan as brusque and tough agent who is also believably sweet and frustrated. Cohan has real screen presence and looks capable of making the leap from TV to film, rarely an easy chasm to cross.
For some reason, the film makes precious little use of Ronda Rousey‘s commanding physical presence, paradoxically giving Cohan’s character the heavier lifting in the action beats. However, Iko Uwais is really the star here. His fight scenes, although unexpectedly disorienting because of Berg’s directing style, are fucking brutal. He’s composed, he’s threatening, and he’s magnetic, and it’s infuriating that Uwais is the supporting actor to Wahlberg’s leading man. On the whole, ‘Mile 22’ is a baffling action thriller that leaves you exhausted with its poor editing and grotesque plot.
Directed – Peter Berg
Rated – R
Run Time – 94 minutes