If you’ve been following Peter Berg’s last few movies like Patriots Day and Lone Survivor, then you know that he has a strong propensity for visceral intensity and brutality. He has a flair for gunplay and the remarkable ability to make even the smallest and tightest action moments feel bigger than they really are. He is certainly a director looking to go places and Mile 22 sees this next phase of his evolution and tackling some new things, albeit still within the familiar framework of raw, brutal action.
Mile 22 sees him not only stray away from real-life stories and move towards an original idea that he crafted with screenwriter Lea Carpenter, but also sees him add some great kung-fu and hand-to-hand combat action from the incredible Iko Uwais, whose action choreography is as harrowing and brutal as Berg’s direction. So this should be a match made in heaven. Do these new elements to his storytelling add to his impressive skillset or rather expose some flaws in his craft?
Unfortunately, it does drift more towards the latter though that does not mean that Mile 22 is not an experience worth watching. From the get-go Mile 22 shows itself as a Berg film through and through where it starts off at an incredibly fast and intense pace and pretty much offers no let up all the way to the end. In fact, when the movie finished just over the 90-minute mark it felt like it had squeezed so much more in than I would’ve expected and left me quite breathless at just how much action it crammed into its brief runtime. A remarkable achievement and a nice change from a genre where movies tend to often outstay their welcome.
If you’re looking for a movie that pulls out all the stops for pulsating action sequences without descending into ridiculous CGI fests, then this is it as Berg remains grounded and realistic with his many action setups and relies on practical effects to make things work. He also isn’t afraid to show lots of blood and people dying in painful ways, so if you don’t mind the onscreen gore, I’ve probably just described your perfect movie.
However, it’s in the aspects of the aforementioned new territory where the film’s cracks start to show. The overall story follows a group of secret special operatives led by Mark Wahlberg’s James Silva. While in Indonesia, a local police officer (Uwais) turns himself in at the US embassy claiming to have the location to chemical weapons that could make the atom bomb drop on Hiroshima and Nagasaki look amateurish. He will only reveal the info is he’s safely escorted to an extraction out of the country 22 miles away, through a city teeming with corrupt local military out to kill him.
The main story is compelling enough and has enough twists along the way to keep you figuring things out. However, with no real-life characters to build on, Berg seems to have tried to build in generic character traits just for the sake of it that never really go anywhere.
Wahlberg’s Silva is supposed to be this neurotic genius who doesn’t get along well with others, but yet you seldom see this genius on display. Instead he ends up just being an unlikable brute who mostly just barks orders angrily while the rest do all the dirty work. Similarly, you have Lauren Cohen, who has this background story of a pending divorce built into it, which reflects little in her actions and if anything only makes the end of the movie a little more emotional. And none of this is helped by the fact that when the characters do engage in dialogue, it is often useless banter rather than anything that actually drives the plot. The movie also stars Ronda Rousey and John Malkovich among others, but they’re mostly wasted and ancillary parts to the rest of the action.
The only real standout character is Uwais whose motivations remain a mystery for much of the movie, but still has a genuine fear for his life. It is his character which also provides the grunt of the action work and he completely steals the show with his execution here.
However, it also provided me with perhaps my biggest gripe of this film. It is edited to death. Now quick cuts can make for some thrilling intensity and pays off with much of the gunplay, but Berg should have taken a different approach with the fisticuffs. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are so well choreographed that you want to witness them flowing in their entirety, but you will have to try to sift through it from 30 different angles and cuts in the space of a minute while all this is going on, and it just takes away from the awesomeness of it all. These brutal fights are arguably still the best moments of the movie, but they should’ve been so much better.
Did I walk away from the movie having enjoyed my experience? Absolutely. Mile 22 has many flaws, but it moves with such an intensity that you don’t have much time to stay frustrated about it and you need to just move along. It’s high pulsating action that certainly keeps your heart rate up and your senses engaged for its entirety. For that reason, it’s a movie I would still recommend watching. You kind of wish there could be more, but at least it’s not too stupid that you lose interest after the first 20 minutes.
And you will definitely be wanting more, because it’s also a movie that is clearly set up for a sequel, which may frustrate you a little because based on its middling box office performance in the US, it might not get one. I personally would like to see more of this type of action and the story certainly merits delving deeper into, though they need to do a better job of building exciting characters should they choose to do so. It’s the kind of premise that will get dry very quickly if there aren’t gripping characters keeping you engaged beyond all the on-screen intensity.
For action fans though, Mile 22 is a must as its non-stop adrenaline and testosterone will keep you on a high. However, if you’re looking for more out of your movie, you’ll feel frustrated at the wasted potential.
Last Updated: September 6, 2018