(2018—Director: Peter Berg)
— by Renard N. Bansale —
(out of 5 stars)
“A battlefield could be a room with two people in it. That’s chaos. That’s fog.” — Overwatch Agent James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) to an unknown journalist
Potential spoilers below
In the crowded last third of the 2016 movie season, audiences had the opportunity to experience a riveting double offering from director Peter Berg. The first was Deepwater Horizon, which dramatized the real-life explosion at the eponymous Gulf of Mexico drilling rig that resulted in the worst oil disaster in U.S. history. The second was Patriots Day, which dramatized the tragic 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the urgent week-long investigation and manhunt that followed.
Both films disappointed commercially, their worldwide box office receipts just surpassing their production budgets. On the other hand, critics received Berg’s two 2017 offerings with general praise. Deepwater Horizon even managed to earn Sound Editing and Visual Effects Oscar nominations.
These two movies, in addition to 2013’s Lone Survivor, saw Peter Berg collaborating with actor Mark Wahlberg. That filmmaker-actor duo hits their first snag with their fourth outing, the action thriller Mile 22. Supporting star and pencak silat martial artist Iko Uwais makes the best of his screentime, though not enough to overcome baffling editing choices and unrefined acting turns from his fellow cast members.
CIA black operations agent James Silva (Mark Wahlberg, edging on hypertension) leads Overwatch, a small but formidable U.S. paramilitary team tasked with missions of utmost secrecy and danger. Five shipments of highly toxic cesium exists at one or multiple unknown locations, and the information regarding these locations has been stored in a disc, surrendered at a U.S. embassy in Southeast Asia by Indonesian police officer Li Noor (Iko Uwais). Noor, a covert asset of Silva’s fellow Overwatch comrade Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan), demands immediate passage out of the country and warns that the disc is slowly destroying itself and will become useless in several hours. Under the remote supervision of James Bishop (John Malkovich) and with an unknown host of foreign police, military, and street gangs armed and waiting for them along the way, Silva and his Overwatch team (including Ronda Rousey and Carlo Alban) must race 22 miles to the nearest airfield for Noor’s extraction, access to the self-destroying disc, and hopefully saving countless lives in the process.
Movies like Mile 22 are why I re-watch new releases for long reviews such as this. Initial reactions benefit from confirmation and vindication. Both times I watched this fourth Berg/Wahlberg collaboration, I left the theater with a strange mix of contentment, confusion, and indifference.
To start, one must know going in that Peter Berg’s non-family friendly action thriller deals with the moral gray area of state-sponsored black operations. ”A government is capable of vengeance. A government is capable of slaughter,” Silva tells a shadowy journalist. Silva insists and affirms how governments across the globe have generated a “fog” in weaponizing the spread of information as well as advancing technology for efficient killing. Silva snidely reminds Alice, shortly before commencing the airport escort of Li Noor, how the consolation of religion contradicts the violence that will forever mark their past. (“Thou shalt not kill,” yet the government desensitizes such agents to killing in the name of national security.) Death has become the only “normal” thing left to anticipate for highly trained operatives like them.
This attitude and cinematic vision towards government espionage was popularized by the Matt Damon-starring Bourne franchise that emerged in the early 2000s. Two hallmarks of that franchise as it progressed included shaky camerawork and heavy cutting to “enhance” the real stunt work on display. However, those franchise traits opened an action genre Pandora’s box, giving imitators license to cut costs via paltry stunt and fight coordination, murky cinematography, and incomprehensible editing.
Mile 22 has received much flack for the efforts of editors Melissa Lawson Cheung and Colby Parker, Jr., Peter Berg’s go-to editor since 2004’s Friday Night Lights. I will admit, after two viewings, that I never truly got lost in the action sequences because of the editing. Instead, it disappointed me that Berg, Cheung, and Parker chose to not capture the full glory of Clay Cullen and Jhon Morales’ stunt coordination and Ryan Watson’s fight coordination (with Uwais’ valuable input). Why cut instead of linger? Why elect to not show us the action rather than actually showing it? Why do many western action filmmakers fail time and again to recognize that the immense fan admiration for the Uwais-starring Raid films (in 2011 and 2014) comes from how those films revel in showing their action?
The acting, while not egregious, comes off as though Peter Berg pulled a Clint Eastwood and settled for as few takes as possible. Under Martin Scorsese’s patient direction on the set of 2006’s The Departed, an amusingly derisive Mark Wahlberg garnered a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Under Berg’s direction in Mile 22, Wahlberg takes on little of Silva’s mental instability as indicated by the opening titles. Instead, Wahlberg resorts to becoming a bossy jerk who uses a wristband to snap himself into focus. Lauren Cohan gets some backstory as a divorced mother fighting against her ex-husband to bond with their daughter, but she overdoes it when she destroys her mobile device after a heated video call. Finally, while Randa Rousey is fine in quieter scenes, Lea Carpenter’s script (from a story by her and Graham Roland) then has her rudely talking down her less prominent comrades and computer analysts.
Given Mile 22’s low box office returns so far, Berg and Wahlberg might lose the chance to further the story of Silva and Overwatch. Should a sequel remain in the works, it is best that they overcome at once the editing and acting mistakes made by them and their fellow crew members here. Cinema does not need another slice of cake needlessly swiped off a café table.
(Parental Note: Mile 22 has been rated R by the MPAA “for strong violence and language throughout”. It has also been rated L (Limited adult audience) by the Catholic News Service for containing “pervasive gun and physical violence, some gore, and frequent profanities.”)
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard graduated from JPCatholic in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting) and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Theology online at the Augustine Institute.
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.