Mile 22 (2019)
Director: Peter Berg
Writer: Lea Carpenter; story by Graham Roland and Lea Carpenter
Cinematographer: Jacques Jouffret
Producer: Peter Berg, Mark Wahlberg, and Stephen Levinson
by Jon Cvack
Peter Berg has been on a roll since Lone Survivor (2013), following it up with a modern disaster porn epic Deep Horizon (2016), and then later that year following the Boston bombing with the quiet release of Patriots Day (2016), which while not as great of a film, was nonetheless a close third. Berg is our generation’s action director. He’s Michael Bay meeting Tony Scott, and like those filmmakers he occasionally makes a dud.
Berg and Wahlberg joining forces yet again was enough of a reason for me to check out the film. It involves an elite paramilitary special forces team who deals with some of the world’s worst problems. The film opens up with a great bait and switch. We watch as a married couple arrive to a quaint house in the middle of nowhere where they argue about whether or not they’re at the right place; improvising in that annoying way some movies do and going on endlessly before entering into a badass action scene as we learn the couple is actually part of a police task force, infiltrating the home to get intelligence and joined by both Wahlberg as the team’s leader named James Silva, joined by Ronda Rousey as Sam Snow (aka “Child 3”).
The operation is meant to secure the highly toxic caesium but the perps gain the upper hand, killing a few from Silva’s team, ending in a bomb that blows up the house in the middle of the suburbs. One young man escapes, warning Silva against killing him in cold blood. Bishop calls into his boss James Bishop (John Malkovich), who approves the kill, and Silva shoots him in the head; which I assume was meant to be edgy and intense - which it was - but also felt like a weird way to introduce a character that we’re supposed to care about.
The mission continues 16 months later in Indonesia when a former cop, Li Moor (Iko Uwais), asks for asylum and an escort out of the country; offering a heavily encrypted hard drive with the location of the remaining caesium. Bishop gets his young hacking team on it while one of his best lieutenants (if not literally a lieutenant, then at least figuratively), Alice Kurr, aka Child 2 (Lauren Cohan), who receives a video call on some weird app that prevents her from using expletives while calling home to her daughter on some strange, bulky satellite phone that looks like a prop from the 1990s rather than a current piece of technology; which she then throws down after saying motherfucker or something and the thing shatters, even though it looks as though it should be bulletproof.
Li Moore is the film’s best character, playing a political dissident who meditates with his fingers (I believe it’s called Sa Ta Ma Na Meditation) which essentially acts like a fuse, building excitement for when he finally breaks down; which is during some moment in the hospital, where for the whole scene I felt like he was simply a psychopathic terrorist that wanted to kill innocent civilians, but in fact were government assassins posing as staff.
It’s only at about thirty to forty minutes than we get to what the title implies the movie’s about, which is that they have to transport Li Moore 22 miles out from the embassy in order to get him across the border. The synopsis said the film was about this exact conflict, which sounded beautiful in its simplicity; like Die Hard (1988) or (that recent indie skyscraper action movie that came out which I now can’t find because The Rock’s Skyscraper (2018) was just released). Instead there’s just a long, drawn out first(ish) act, as though they couldn’t find a way to get there faster.
I loved all of Wahlberg’s Berg characters; with Marcus Luttrell taking the top position. Like any great action star, Wahlberg has that All American feel. He’s the John McCain of action movies; a guy whose charm infects everyone all while possessing the perfect amount of intimidation and decency. His intensity seems genuine, as though we’re watching a particular Ideal Man that so many aspire toward; having the good job, great truck, pretty wife, and amazing kid.
As mentioned, before we know much about Bishop we see him kill a child. He’s then introduced as a raging fast-talking sociopath; who yells most of his conversations and all of his orders. In one scene, as a couple fresh college grad hackers attempt to break encryption, Bishop comes roaring in about 9/11 and how they’re inability to crack the code could kill thousands; failing to provide any motivation other than the fear of what will happen to them should they fail. At times the character feels like Sorkin characters on cocaine; as he talks so fast, at times I had no idea what he was saying, and then he’d insert some historical or literary anecdote to show how smart the guy actually is. I saw a bully. The kind of person you sometimes work with while getting the job done, also makes the job as miserable as possible.
When the film actually heads out onto the street for Mile 22, it had to have been halfway through. Corrupt police and biker gang members attack them in the middle of the Bali streets, inside a coffee shop, and ending in an uneventful final shootout in some barren apartment complex. Ronda Rousey dies along the way, and again in a needlessly brutal way; where shot up and dying, Bishop leaves her behind, pulling a less intense Miles Dyson, and taking out two of the biker gang members.
In the end, they get Li across the border and onto a plane. At only a little over ninety minutes, the film felt as though it had played for two hours. Still, it kepting going, spiraling into a twist in which Li kills Alice when the two fly out together. Turns out Alice was a triple agent, working for the Russians and somehow involved with the opening scene. Even after reading the Wikipedia I still can’t really piece it together, leading me to wonder if this movie could even be over, or set up for a sequel. I discovered it’s the first in a trilogy.
Peter Berg has created some of the best action movie sequences of this generation. Lone Survivor, Patriot’s Day, and Deep Horizon all created engaged and memorable characters about each other, and therefore made us care about them. Mile 22 failed to create a single great character or personal conflict. Even Ben Kingsley’s role was underwhelming (though his Converse shoes with the suit were a brilliant touch). All of his other films provide depth to the character. I feel like I know them, or they’re people I’d want to hang with. I’m not sure why this was abandoned, and maybe the other movies will get more into that element. Simply because it’s Berg and Wahlberg, I will watch the rest with the best hopes in mind.
*I’m aware he’s a democrat, or at least has supported many of then, which makes his crossover all the more impressive.
BELOW: You don't realize how awesome this scene is until you're in a movie theater with hundreds of others
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