strong violence and language throughout
Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, Ronda Rousey, John Malkovich
Peter Berg, Mark Wahlberg, Ste
STX Entertainment on
For some reason, there has been a move by a few critics to politicize their reviews of Mile 22, Peter Berg's tightly-constructed espionage thriller. I guess one side-effect of living in a hyper-partisan era is that some films aren't allowed to stand (or fall) on their own merits. Yes, productions like BlacKkKlansman are openly political and must therefore be reviewed on that basis but Mile 22 is constructed as mass-market entertainment and is no more political than Mission: Impossible - Fallout, a film it resembles in many important areas.
Although Mark Wahlberg lacks the charisma, screen presence, and overall acting ability of Tom Cruise, his character, James Silva, has a similar job description to that of Ethan Hunt. As the field team leader of "Overwatch," a top-secret spy organization within the U.S. government (so top-secret that, whenever Overwatch is activated, the members have to resign their CIA posts to participate), Silva is an elite fighter with anger management issues. Other members working under him include Alice (Lauren Cohan) and Sam (Ronda Rousey), while the "eye in the sky" element is run by a man (John Malkovich) who only uses codenames: "Bishop" (as in the chess piece) and "Mother."
Mile 22 opens with a prologue in which the Overwatch team raids a Russian safehouse and kills everyone inside. Later, they're called into action to track down the components of a dirty bomb. This leads them to Li Noor (Iko Uwais), a rogue agent of a foreign government who can provide the location of the missing material - in return for asylum. Once he's on a plane headed out of the country, he'll spill the beans, but not until then. There's a time component - the plane is on its way and, once it lands, it can only stay on the ground for ten minutes. Silva and his people have to travel 22 contested miles and get to the rendezvous on time or the mission will fail, potentially ushering in World War 3. But there's something else going on involving an anonymous group of high-level Russians whose importance doesn't become clear until late in the proceedings.
Mile 22, like Mission: Impossible - Fallout, is balls-to-the-wall action, full of stunts, fights, explosions, and satellite views of kill zones. However, unlike the higher-profile film, it's lean and mean, coming in at a trim 95 minutes. It doesn't get bogged down with exposition, instead providing a full adrenaline-and-testosterone cocktail that packs a kick. The plot is far from airtight (it's actually a little dumb and simplistic) but it's no more preposterous than that of any of the Tom Cruise films. Just don't start comparing it to Tom Clancy (who wrote with greater intelligence and meticulousness in the same genre) and you'll be okay.
For anyone who appreciated the orgy of stunningly choreographed violence in The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2, Berg has attempted to replicate aspects of director Gareth Evans' style when choreographing fight scenes for Iko Uwais (who starred in both of the Indonesian action films). Uwais kicks ass in brutally R-rated ways every time he gets involved in hand-to-hand combat. Mark Wahlberg does what he usually does, which is to provide a familiar face without investing his character with much in the way of personality. He and Ronda Rousey fall into the same category: they look good in their roles but don't do much in the way of acting. It's a drawback but, in a movie that's more concerned about pulse elevation than character-building, it works as well as Mission: Impossible - Fallout and a lot better than something like Skyscraper.
The short running length is a benefit because it means that Mile 22 doesn't stick around long enough to wear out its welcome - a too-often evident problem in films of this sort. Berg, who has a penchant for making overlong movies based on real-life events (three of which have featured Wahlberg: Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and Patriots Day), hits the sweet spot here. It's also his first purely fictional outing since Battleship and, despite a lower-profile cast, represents a significant improvement. The simple premise - deliver a "package" from Point A to Point B - allows Berg to focus on suspense - an area in which he excels. The film's darkness, in which things go from bad to worse and it becomes difficult to find anyone deserving of sympathy, may turn off those looking for a white-hatted hero, but that often comes with this territory. Even in the black-and-white era, spy thrillers stayed in the grays. Mile 22 delivers precisely what's expected from a violent, escapist action film and does so with brevity and shock power.
© 2018 James Berardinelli
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