The first thing to know about Korey Rowe, the director of the documentary Mile Marker, is that he’s one of the producers of Loose Change. Yes, the movie about how 9/11 was a false flag attack carried out by the US government to justify the War on Terror. “Jet fuel can’t melt steel beams,” etc.
I wouldn’t trust the US government to tie my shoes, but even for me, Loose Change falls firmly in the “wacky conspiracy theory” category, along with chemtrails, the faked moon landing, and the CIA controlling the weather. The Loose Change filmmakers have re-released the film every few years despite scientists and journalists discrediting each of its claims. So it’s worth mentioning up front that I’m biased against whatever this filmmaker has to say because I feel like they’ve been irresponsible. Then again, I like Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) despite his 9/11-truther statements, so I don’t want to automatically write someone off for views that are, shall we say, “outside the mainstream.”
From the first shot of an upside-down American flag, the viewer of Mile Marker might think they’re in for “Loose Change Redux.” Thankfully, Rowe comes across as an otherwise level-headed guy, and nothing in Mile Marker references his work on Loose Change. In fact, most of the movie tries to avoid grand political statements altogether, instead focusing on his personal story of reconnecting with his former army squadmates.
“…focusing on his personal story of reconnecting with his former army squadmates.”
Before he was honorably discharged and began work on Loose Change in 2005, Rowe was one of the US Army’s “Rakkasans,” an esteemed regiment with a history that goes back to World War II. We learn that many of his fellow Rakkasans did not integrate well when they returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—many have struggled with PTSD, and others were dishonorably discharged for possession of cannabis paraphernalia, making it impossible for them to get steady jobs back in the States.
The catalyst for Mile Marker was the death of Jesse Snider, one of Rowe’s best friends and a central figure in the film. The circumstances of his death are vague in the movie’s telling, but what’s clear is that Snider died as a result of years of inattention from the Department of Veterans Affairs and mistreatment by local law enforcement. After police charged him with nine felonies after raiding a nighttime paintball game on his property, it was impossible for him to get his life back on track, even after most of the charges were dropped. He spiraled into depression and drug abuse, eventually dying after moving to California.
Remembering Snider and examining the factors that led to his death are the central goals of Mile Marker. There are a lot of noble intentions here: it’s a personal film that touches on veteran’s issues, PTSD, and the sociological barriers to reintegration. However, while there are a lot of moving parts here that seem like they could work together, the editing, unfortunately, doesn’t form them into a coherent whole.
Sometimes, Mile Marker wants to be a travelogue about Rowe’s road trip to visit his old squad of Rakkasans. Sometimes it wants to be a wide-ranging study of veterans’ struggles with PTSD. Sometimes it wants to be an intimate story of Rowe and his fellow soldiers’ time in the military. And in the final 30 minutes, it wants to be a piece of advocacy for medicinal cannabis use to treat PTSD. Most of these could have been a solid fulcrum for a film that touches on the others, but Mile Marker can’t make up its mind.
“…it wants to be a piece of advocacy for medicinal cannabis use to treat PTSD…”
The best social advocacy documentaries seamlessly transition between personal stories and broader societal contexts and implications. Sometimes Mile Marker does this well; sometimes it jams the transmission and leaves you thinking, “Why am I watching this person talk about this?” The first time the movie brings up marijuana, it’s interesting, but there are so many short profiles of cannabis-reform companies that it starts to feel redundant (especially after more emotionally charged scenes of veterans’ testimonies). Maybe the most out-of-place aspect was Rowe’s centering of his own road trip, a.k.a. the film’s production process—the title “Mile Marker” refers to how many miles he’s spent on the road, driving from interview to interview. It distracted from the other stories he was trying to tell; I would have preferred to spend more time with the other Rakkasans.
I would recommend Mile Marker to viewers with a deep interest in the military, veterans’ issues, and cannabis legislation. The interviews are most compelling, and there are some cathartic moments where Rowe confronts the loss of his friend. Even if you agree with what the movie has to say, though, it ends up feeling like less than the sum of its parts.
Mile Marker (2018) Written and directed by Korey Rowe. With Korey Rowe, Jesse Snider, Joey Boyd, Robert Delaney, Jon Harwood.
5 out of 10 stars.