18th Sep2018

‘Mile 22’ Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, John Malkovich, Sam Medina | Written by Lea Carpenter | Directed by Peter Berg


Remember Sabotage, David Ayer’s dodgy DEA task force action thriller from 2014? Probably not, but Peter Berg’s fourth collaboration with muse Mark Wahlberg may jog your memory, with its similarly diverse elite squad (a good thing) and its videogamey attitude to plotting, human beings and basic logic (all bad things). This is perfect vehicle for Berg and his ultra-conservative, cynical and ultimately juvenile worldview. Yet somehow this technically talented director has fudged what should have been a straightforward idiotic pleasure.

Mile 22 opens with a gripping scene involving a raid on an FSB house. The FSB – *checks Wikipedia* – is the successor to the Russian KGB, and they’re doing something nefarious, so Jimmy (Wahlberg) and his squad trick their way in and start gathering evidence. It all kicks off, and we are suddenly thrown into the midst of the film’s chief technical shortcoming. More on that later.

17 months later, a man by the name of Li Noor (Iko Uwais) rocks up at the American embassy in an Indonesian city. Li claims to know the whereabouts of numerous deposits of highly lethal caesium. He has contrived a way of forcing a time limit on Jimmy and his “Overwatch” squad, which is overseen by John Malkovich’s “Mother”. So they have no option (more on that later too) but to give in to Li’s demands and transport him the 22 miles to an aircraft which will bring him to the US for asylum.

Those 22 miles are no Sunday drive to the supermarket. Almost immediately, Jimmy and co are beset by machine gun-toting bikers – the armed goons of Axel (Sam Medina), a dirty cop running a death squad on behalf of the corrupt Indonesian government. They have an indefatigable will to get to Li Noor, not to mention an endless supply of dispensable henchmen. Can Jimmy and his team get Li to the church on time?

Blasting through Jimmy’s backstory in the credits, it seems that he was an autistic child, which transforms into some generic unnamed “craziness” in adulthood. A family tragedy as a kid results in him repressing his trauma and gives him a reason to be rampantly aggressive as a man. Whether this makes Jimmy much of a leader is questionable, but it gives Wahlberg some amusing lines. To be fair, everyone is perennially angry in Mile 22 – and that’s before anyone picks up a gun. Overwatch, it seems, operates on bickering and put-downs. Rarely have I seen an action movie with such a refreshingly inclusive attitude to women manage to be so hilariously macho.

The script, a debut from Lea Carpenter, is a shocker. Its attempts to squeeze Michael Mann-ian gravitas from the conflict between Jimmy and Axel is laughable – Heat this certainly ain’t. It achieves a rare 18 certificate because of its attitude to violence, but in terms of writing this is very much the video game definition of “mature”, meaning constant swearing and posturing. The narrative structure is a game, too, as Jimmy’s team shoot their way from point to point with Malkovich’s Overwatch providing checkpoints by radio.

Then there’s the politics, which are, shall we say, “patriotic”. But how can we take the geopolitical lecturing seriously when Jimmy’s team is so incompetent? It’s meant to be a ghost unit; the “third option”, when diplomacy and force have failed. Except they only ever consider option two. Never is a more subtle or covert plan to extract Li Noor even suggested. Why not bring a helicopter to the police compound? If they must go through the streets, why drive in a very obvious convoy? Could they not consider using disguises and decoy vehicles?

Regardless of the questions over Li’s elaborate methods, there is something apt about Uwais’ character seeking asylum in the US. The Indonesian silat genius is waiting for his Hollywood crossover hit. But there’s no chance of The Raid star showing off his skills with editing like this. Melissa Lawson Cheung and (Berg veteran) Colby Parker Jr are the culprits. This may be the worst-edited big-budget action movie I’ve ever seen, challenging Batman Begins for fast-cutting excess. The setpieces – including a potentially terrifying street ambush – are there for the taking, but they are mauled into an incoherent mush in the post-production suite.

Berg’s direction doesn’t help. His reluctance to put people front and centre in his frames is almost comical. And God forbid the camera ever stay still. Always eager for an angle or a de-focus, Berg over-directs to the point of obfuscation.

There’s no obfuscating Berg’s worldview, which ranges from paranoid to dribbling conspiracy theorist. In establishing an unseen world where apocalyptic endgames are but a wealthy woman’s whim away, he seeks to bring us onboard with his “at any cost” solution – which is really just an excuse to enjoy maximum sadistic violence without feeling guilty. It means that the normalisation of torture and the palpable joy of a successful drone attack (on a target not formally identified, I might add) are supposedly acceptable in the context.

To top off all this ugliness is the crowning immigration message, which is impossible to get into without spoilers. But rest assured, it’ll have a red-blooded minority in America twirling their MAGA hats in glee. They’ll just have to wait for the sequel, outrageously baited during the hurried, unsatisfying ending.

Coming in at just over 90 minutes, and unburdened by being based on real-life events, Berg’s film could have been a taut little street shootout thriller. Instead, it’s burdened by a host of other issues: deeply troubling political overtones, unsightly direction, a mangle-mouthed script and murder in the editing room. It’s ugly in form and outlook, and not worth even its brief running time.

Mile 22 is out in cinemas from 19th September 2018.


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