Mile 22

I am not going to waste your time nor mince words, so let’s get this out of the way immediately – Mile 22 is loud, ugly, and contains no artistic value to be found anywhere in its excruciating 95-minute runtime. How exactly did a big budget film directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg go so wrong?

Mile 22 follows Overwatch, a government black ops division led by James Silva (Mark Wahlberg). Silva suffers from ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and with about all anger issues imaginable. A recent bust for a radioactive substance, cesium, in Southeast Asia does not go as smoothly as planned. Attempting to repair the damage from the intel he gave to Silva’s next in command, Alice (Lauren Cohan), police officer Li Noor (Iko Uwais), brings her an encrypted solid state drive which he claims has the locations of several different cesium caches.

However, he will only unlock it if Overwatch gets him on a plane to the United States Of America. He has hard proof about the corruption of his government, specifically the Chief Intelligence Officer Axel (Sam Medina), who plays the different gangs and politicians to his advantageous means. Overwatch now has a limited amount of time to get Noor the 22 miles to the rendezvous point with the airplane. As the team sets on their journey with the asset, they encounter motorcycle gangs, hired thugs, and ruthlessly trained mercenaries, all who want to kill Noor before he leaves the country.

Lea Carpenter’s screenplay is based on a story concept that she and Graham Roland conceived; presumably while watching 16 Blocks, which shares a remarkably similar story structure (the specifics are different enough though). Mile 22 represents Carpenter’s first screenplay of any kind, feature-length or short form, and that inexperience makes itself known from the opening scene. The plot is nonsensical, and the characterizations are, for the most part, non-existent.

“Silva suffers from ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and with about all anger issues imaginable…”

After the prologue, wherein the Overwatch team take out Russian spies, the opening title sequence tells the audience Silva’s backstory, his psychological profile, and how he was recruited to Overwatch. That is all the characterization he has for the rest of the movie. It is awkwardly told to the audience and never comes back into play.

But at least he got some form of development, which is more than literally any other person onscreen. I suppose Alice would be the next most nuanced character, as she is getting a divorce and misses her daughter. This begs the question, which is brought up in the movie, only for no answer to take shape- why did she have a family to begin with? This line of work means being abroad for months, possibly even years, doing life-threatening, unofficial work for the government. Why did she not move positions or get a different job in another sector entirely? Alice having a family, and then being divorced, is a lazy way to gain empathy for the character, but it does not make sense, and it does come into play, save as a cheap ploy. Not a single other person has anything to them, aside from what the actors bring to the table.

Director Peter Berg has only made one great film. It was his second feature film, The Rundown, and that is 15 years old now! Since then, he has had ups and downs, but nothing truly disastrous, but also nothing as great as their potential leads them to possibly become. When accompanied with a decent script, his style, which is blandly epic in a dull, inoffensive way, makes for a competent viewing experience (see Friday Night Lights or Deepwater Horizon). However, when the scripts are lacking in character or are unfocused (see either Battleship or Hancock), he creates mostly forgettable films.

Therefore, it is inexplicable how in the everloving hell Berg wound up with this mess on his hands. Mile 22 is unpleasant to look at in every possible way. Jacques Jouffert served as director of photography and fails to make anything about the movie standout. Colors are washed out and muted, the lighting is garish, and the chosen camera angles are wonky, off balance, and confusing. Another possibility is that there were two editors on the project, Melissa Lawson Cheung, and Colby Parker Jr. Based on the finished product, it would seem they were at war.

Randomly inserted throughout the film are shots of Wahlberg’s Silva snapping a yellow rubber band on his wrist. It is not moody, or atmospheric, or even placed in sequences that make sense to show such a thing. After losing a few team members during a highway battle, Silva goes outside the safe house to talk to Axel. He rants at the intelligence chief, explaining that even though Axel believes himself to be highly untouchable, with a tenacity that can’t be beaten, and a virtually nonexistent moral compass, Silva just might be even worse.

“Wahlberg motormouths every line, and it would be hilarious if it weren’t so misguided…”

During this highly contentious scene, where the character is meant to be getting angrier and meaner the longer his monologue goes on, there is an insert shot (or two) of Silva snapping that yellow rubber band. That snapping of the rubber band is a technique his mother taught him to do whenever his hyperactivity overwhelmed him. In this case, though, the entire point of the scene is that he is going over the top in a fashion he does not usually. Therefore, calming him down makes absolutely no sense in context. Why then, pray tell, is it awkwardly shoved in there? It is because no one making Mile 22 cared about making Mile 22.

Best exemplifying this is Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg can be a great actor, in the right role. He steals every gloriously odd moment of I Heart Huckabee’s, because that character is entirely sincere, perhaps to a fault. Alternatively, a better example would be the first collaboration between Berg and Wahlberg, Lone Survivor. But Silva is the single worst performance this actor has ever given. During that monologue to Axel previously described, Wahlberg comes off as phony, posturing as aggressive and forceful, but it is not believable. That is due to the viewer attempting to will him to shut the hell up for at least one minute. Wahlberg motormouths every line, and it would be hilarious if it weren’t so misguided. There is not a moment that Wahlberg truly inhabits this character.

Rousey seems just to be herself and only gets half an action sequence. Peter Berg hired Rousey and then does let her fight? Did anyone care about the finished film at all? Not that anyone else fares much better, save for Uwais. Uwais, the star of the phenomenal The Raid films, is the only one who seems to be having fun and has the charisma to overcome the awful script and directing. It certainly helps that his character has the fewest lines out of any of the major players.

Movies are a visual medium, but Mile 22 is so painfully ugly to gaze upon, with little rhyme or reason to the editing, and with the camera angles that make you question if you are somehow drunk it does not qualify as a visual experience. This isn’t a movie, it is anti-cinema; an endurance test to discover how malleable a human’s brain is. It just so happens to contain the worst performances anyone in the cast is capable of giving, as well; except Uwais, who is trying, in spite of everything else. This is a diseased product, and my only hope is that audiences are smart enough to stay far, far away from it.

Mile 22 (2018) Directed by Peter Berg. Written by Lea Carpenter. Starring Mark Wahlberg, John Malkovich, Iko Uwais, Lauren Cohan, Sam Medina, Ronda Rousey.

1 Brain Cell (out of 10)

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