Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg have become quite the team. Starting with 2013’s Lone Survivor, the duo was able to find the perfect balance of entertaining action and intense drama. Lone Survivor was an incredibly intense film that is almost too intense to watch. That understanding and use of tension are what make that film great. They were able to capture that same balance with their two other collaborations in 2016, Deepwater Horizon and Patriot’s Day. While these films were less tense, they had more intriguing drama, which in turn made those films great. That run of three films is quite impressive and it adds a lot of intrigue and expectation for the duo’s next collaboration. That collaboration came this past weekend in the form of an original action movie, Mile 22.
Original action movies don’t come along nearly as often as I would like, so when one does I take notice. With Peter Berg behind the camera and Mark Wahlberg in front, it’s hard to not notice. Mile 22 aims to fill a void in the summer movie season. With reboots and sequels filling theaters, there is a desire to see something original and new. On that front, Mile 22 works. It was nice to see a movie and not have to worry any of the previous films or how it ties into a larger cinematic universe. There is value in that and Berg exploited that. It also works on a mindless action movie level. Some of the greatest action movies off all-time are rather mindless, and that’s because a great action movie can be built around tension. There are few directors better equipped to build an action movie around tension than Peter Berg.
Mile 22 is an enjoyable watch and that is due in large part to the tension that is created throughout the movie. It is an intense experience for most of the 94 minute runtime. It doesn’t really get bogged down in trying to shoehorn a more complex story into the movie, it stays focused on the action. The opening scene thrusts us almost immediately into the action and there is very little reprieve from there. We open with the top-secret CIA tactical unit, Overwatch, on a mission to obtain information from a group of Russians inside a house in the suburbs. This mission goes from 0 to 100 pretty fast and then there is about 10 to 15 minutes of tension inside this house. With the team members clearing the rooms, the gunfight and the fire, the scene perfectly sets the tone setter for the rest of the movie. The mission alone is tense enough but Berg adds to the tension with the way that he shoots the whole thing. There are plenty of tight shots of the team as they move around the house and a time limit for them to successfully complete their mission. The tension is also raised with the violence. Mile 22 is not one of those action movies with a lot of bullets but not a lot of death. The toll of what this team does is clear on the screen with blood and death. It’s almost unbelievable when the first member of the team dies during the mission, and the beat that the movie takes allows that to sink in. The stakes are raised after that because you know that it is possible for more people to die, which also raises the tension.
The opening action sequence is far from the tensest scene in the movie but it is a much needed tone setter. It’s not long after that opening scene that we are thrust right back into the action. That is another enjoyable element of this movie. Peter Berg knows what type of movie he is making and he doesn’t stray away from that. It almost feels like one incredibly long action sequence and it works. The action sequences are good and thrilling. The fight choreography is great and the fight scenes as a whole are good. A lot of credit is due to Iko Uwais (Li Noor). He was incredible to watch and provided some of the more innovative fight scenes that I’ve seen in a while. He came off as a star and his performance alone is worth the watch. Like most good action movies, the action gets better as the movie goes along. The final action sequence (the actual mission that the movie is named after) was all that I wanted. It was unpredictable, thrilling and interesting. It was also pretty simple to follow. The Overwatch team needed to get a person (Li Noor) out of the country because he had information that they needed. That was pretty much all there was to it and that simplicity helps it work because I could simply turn my brain off and enjoy the action.
As nice as it was to turn my brain off and enjoy the action, I eventually had to turn my brain back on and that’s when the problems started. A lot of what is going on in Mile 22 doesn’t really hold up to all that much thought. The mission itself is a simple one but the complexities added around the mission don’t make all that much sense. Neither do some of the characters. James Silva (Wahlberg) is a jerk all throughout the movie and he is pitched as this tortured genius but there isn’t much there to support that. So in the end he’s this fast talking jerk that isn’t very interesting or compelling. The same can be said for Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan). Cohan is a good actress and it was a lot of fun to see her kicking ass but her character is a mess. There is a divorce plot line thrown in that doesn’t get the time or attention it needs to actually work but even if it were given the time, I still don’t think it would work. They tossed something in to try and add stakes but it fails because that doesn’t make me care about her character anymore. These characters work better with less backstory, which I understand is usually not the case but here it is. Sam Snow (Ronda Rousey) is an interesting character and one that I enjoyed, and I didn’t know anything about her except that she is good at her job. That is all I need from these characters, the stakes were established in other places. Weak backstories don’t create stakes they just hinder the movie.
The same can be said for some of Berg’s directorial choices, with the most annoying being his continual use of shaky cam. Shaky cam gives the viewer the illusion that they are actually at the scene where the action is taking place. When it is used effectively it is a great tool, and one that Berg has used masterfully in the past. When used incorrectly or too often it makes the scene hard to distinguish. The latter is the problem that Berg ran himself into. He used a fair amount of shaky cam and at times I couldn’t make out what was happening in the scene at all. There were also a lot of quick cuts throughout the film so that could cover this up a bit, but it was wearing on me as the movie went on. These mistakes usually bring a movie all the way down, but in spite of these things, Mile 22 still worked for me. Where it works is on a pure entertainment level. I liked most of the action. I really like Mark Wahlberg and Lauren Cohan. Ronda Rousey was a nice addition and Iko Uwais was incredible. While it doesn’t hold up to much thought, neither do some really fun movies. That is all the movie is really supposed to be and on that front it worked for me.
3 out of 5 stars
Director: Peter Berg Writers: Lea Carpernter & Graham Roland Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, IKo Uwais, John Malkovich & Ronda Rousey Release Date: August 17th Rated: R Runtime: 1 hour and 34 minutes Image Credit: Imdb via STX