Principal Cast : Mark Wahlberg, Iko Uwais, John Malkovich, Lauren Cohan, Ronda Rousey, Nikolai Nikolaeff, Carlo Alban, Terry Kinney, Poorna Jagannathan, Sam Medina, Natasha Goubskaya, Alexandra Vino, Cedric Gervais, Chae Rin Lee, Emily Skeggs.
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.
Incomprehensible gibberish masquerading as an espionage thriller, in similar vein to Ridley Scott’s 2008 thriller Body Of Lies, Mile 22 is numb to coherence and demands you avoid understanding whatever is going on. Directed by Peter Berg, once again delving into torn-from-the-headlines realism and grit alongside obligatory muse Mark Wahlberg (this film is the fourth in which the pair have teamed up) goes for broke in a mixed-up bullets-and-blood orgy of excess, a lamentably confused plot and heinous characters unable to rise above mediocre direction as this film barrels towards an obnoxiously cruel and irrelevant conclusion. There’s a sense of shock and awe to Mile 22, the only thing being it’s shocking how unwatchably awful this thing is, and awe inspiring how far off the rails Berg’s career appears to have run.
Wahlberg stars as James Silva, a horrible human being who spends his time as a black ops agent working largely unsanctioned for the US Government, on a mission to locate several pounds of deadly caesium which could be used as a weapon of mass destruction. At the US Embassy in an unnamed Asian country, former Special Forces operative Li Noor (Iko Uwais) hands himself in with information contained on a self-destructing hard drive that will give the team the location of the caesium – if they can exfiltrate him from the country. Distance between embassy and airport? 22 miles. Assisted by tech support in Overwatch (John Malkovich), Silva and his team battle the hugely corrupt government operatives sent to stop them and kill Noor before he leaves the country in order to save hundreds of thousands of lives.
Despite the welcome addition of Raid and The Night Comes For Us star Iko Uwais, as physical a stunt performer as any in recent memory, Mile 22 pretty much wastes its cast in a thunderous hail of bullets and speechifying. Purportedly an action film, the film delivers plenty of high octane stunts, explosions and run-n-gun chase sequences, all of little consequence and entirely devoid of tension. The reason for our disinterest stems from the thoroughly unlikeable roster of characters, all of whom are utterly awful people doing a thankless job, and the film can’t get us “into” their headspace with enough heft to make them matter to us.
Wahlberg’s odious black ops dude is an abusive dissociative psychopath who berates his team, upbraids the enemy and generally behaves like a total dickhead. Exactly why he makes a compelling lead character is lost to us beyond his testosterone-fuelled manic posturing, Wahlberg’s full-throated performance a blitzkrieg of jumbled machismo and asinine screen-cool posturing. Berg’s camera lavishes attention on him almost constantly, which doesn’t help when he’s a malignant presence within the story. John Malkovich’s overwatch leader is hardly a stretch for the thespian, reduced to staring at screens and mumbling operational technobabble into a headset – the film’s use of the phrase “mother” and “child 1” between overwatch and the team becomes tediously obnoxious – while Iko Uwais, who spends a great deal of the movie silently waiting his turn, explodes into fight sequences that are shot like it was filmed inside a threshing machine. It’s all so disappointing, especially considering this is Peter Berg, a man who gave us The Kingdom, Lone Survivor and the patently ridiculous Battleship (which I thoroughly enjoyed).
Support roles to Lauren Cohan, as a estranged mother to a young daughter she never sees and a member of Silva’s team, (can we say “former” yet?) MMA star Ronda Rousey, and Carlo Alban form the core quartet we follow through the streets of the city they’re to escape from, and a brutal guerrilla operation it soon becomes. Nobody in this film has a character of any resonance, nothing that happens in this film seems to really matter, and the plot’s convoluted machinations become tiresome quite quickly thanks to Lea Carpenter’s offensively dire script. Berg attempts a modern juddery action aesthetic and ends up with a film that’s one-half Black Hawk Down, one third Mission Impossible, and a dollop of Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone thrown into the mix. The further the film goes, the bloodier and more brutal it gets, as the army of faceless henchmen sent to kill Noor and Silva seem endless – a fact not just textured into the fabric of the film subtly but also actually name-checked by Wahlberg just before it all kicks off. Berg’s hyperbolic camerawork is impossible to comprehend beyond shadowy figures, a rein of bullets and exploding grenades, and copious blood spilled in the name of… what, freedom? I’m not sure, and to be frank I really didn’t care.
There’s a word I use only rarely to describe a film of such distasteful inhumanity, and that’s repellent. Mile 22 repelled me as a viewer, made me uncomfortably resistant to its white-noise of carnage and effectively killed off any remaining dignity I had in proclaiming Berg one of my potentially favourite directors at the time The Rundown came along. It’s a shockingly impotent affair, showcasing gratuitous death without a shred of respect for the viewer or depth of character for the cast within it. A miasma of waste and wanton destruction, Mile 22 is a marathon effort to endure and should be avoided at all costs.