IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 94 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Black ops agent James Silva leads a strike team code-named Overwatch to infiltrate a house supposedly containing caesium, a highly toxic substance that can be used to kill thousands, but only some of it is found. Sixteen months later in Indonesia, police officer Li Noor, the person who told Overwatch’s Alice Bishop about the caesium and seemingly misled her, surrenders himself at the U.S. embassy to negotiate for passage out of the country in exchange for information regarding the caesium – which he gives except for a code for one last disc which is destroying itself and about to be rendered useless in a few hours. Silva agrees to take Noor to an airplane at an airstrip 22 miles away where Noor says that he’ll divulge the code, but there are those who are out to stop him.…
My other cinema review this week was going to be The House With A Clock In Its Walls, and in fact I’ll still probably go to see that film tomorrow and possibly review. But owing to a cock-up concerning movie times by Yours Truly, I ended up watching Mile 22 instead- and soon wished I hadn’t despite the presence of martial arts sensation Iko Uwais. A confused blur of faces talking, bodies tumbling, guns blazing and vehicles moving, Mile 22 is barely a proper film at all – or at least as I see a proper film to be. Director Peter Berg [Battleship, Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor] has always been one of those filmmakers who bizarrely thinks that disguising action with ‘shakycam’ and masses of cuts so you can barely follow it is the way to go, but up till now he’s restrained himself somewhat. But here, like some unholy combination of Michael Bay, Paul Greengrass and Oliver Megaton, he allows himself to run riot, resulting in a film that is an ordeal to watch, extremely chaotic, and very amateurish [at least Greengrass and to a certain extent Bay know what they’re doing with things like choice of shots, the insertion of wide shots or zoom outs giving a sense of geography etc] – and not just during the action scenes either, the dialogue sequences looking very randomly put together.
Of course one can almost forgive [I say almost] filmmakers when the likes of Liam Neeson and Matt Damon, actors whose fighting skill is limited, are the ones dishing out the mayhem on screen, but can anyone tell me the logic in featuring someone like Iko Uwais [and Tony Jaa has suffered from this of late too] who doesn’t need any supposed ‘enhancement’ in the cutting room, then chopping up and shaking his action scenes so the viewer just can’t appreciate what he’s doing on screen? His Headshot suffered from ‘shakycam’ during the brawls, but at least there were some nice long takes and you didn’t have to strain your eyes to follow what was going on. But then Berg and screenwriter Lea Carpenter fill this film with odd decisions, like hiring MMA legend Ronda Russey and then having her to do just one tiny fight move, or getting Mark Wahlberg’s character to lose his temper every ten minutes or so and have a rant, presumably in an attempt to add more intensity but resulting in considerable annoyance. This is especially frustrating because Mile 22 could actually have been decent with a director at the helm who knew what he was doing and with some rewriting. The actual story line actually isn’t too bad and Berg does keep things going at a tremendously fast pace that never slackens. Unfortunately this is also one of those films in which I began to look forward to the quieter moments – only that many of those turned out to be also terribly handled!
So we begin with our Black ops team [yes, another one] raiding a house full of Russians, and Berg does manage some good tension here. When all hell breaks lose and bullets fly, the camera jitters wildly but I liked seeing certain parts of the action from the point of view of cameras ‘found footage’ style, and we get what actually looks like a real explosion. In fact there are several explosions in this film that look genuine – and if they weren’t then the visual effects team did a bloody good job. The raid is a failure because they don’t find all of the deadly caesium they’re after. An older teenage boy falls out of the explosion and pleads with Silva not to be killed – but Silva shoots him anyway in a nasty but brave little moment that thereafter makes him rather unsympathetic – though he’d have soon been hard to like even without the scene what with the constant rants. Wahlberg, in his fourth film for Berg, clearly decided to just have a lot of fun here, but he often talks so fast that you can’t make out what he’s saying [so Berg has made a film where you often can’t hear what one of the two main characters is saying but nor can you often see what the other main character is doing – what a complete idiot of a filmmaker], and I soon just wanted him to shut the hell up. John Malkovitch is ‘Mother’ their boss, and he’s fun to watch as always. Out of the other members of his team, the only two who make some impact are Roussey, who as Sam Snow does little but does ably deliver some foul mouthed put downs, and the only one we get to know best – Alice Keer [Lauren Cohan], whose job is ruining her marriage in some tedious moments. She goes for a drink with Silva and probably expected some comfort, but of course Silva is anything but comforting in a scene which I found rather funny though I don’t think that’s the reaction that was intended.
Every now and again we flash forward to Silva relating events to superiors, and, while having a framing device isn’t always a bad idea, it certainly turns out to be one here because the cutting back and forth between past and present is employed ridiculously often and ruins any vestiges of rhythm that hadn’t already been destroyed by the cack-handed editing of scenes with terrible use of close-ups, mismatching shots, and the like. An early sequence linking together two interviews from different times looks especially botched, as if they just pieced it together in two minutes. At least it’s not long before Uwais comes into the picture, and I will say that he gives his most natural performance in front of the camera yet, often managing to express himself by emoting very little. His character Li Noor is understandably treated with suspicion. He has to submit to a lie detector test and is then nearly killed by Indonesian agents disguised as doctors. Noor battling two bad guys using various things in the room while one of his hands is cuffed to a bed – it sounds awesome, like an ultra-violent version of an archetypal Jackie Chan fight – and if you try really hard you can just about make out some really cool stuff that Uwais is doing, like virtually running down part of a wall as he grapples an opponent. But you may also get sore eyes and feel a little sick – honestly, this film contains some of the worst ‘shakycam’ I’ve ever seen outside of ‘found footage’.
So Noor has to be taken twenty two miles to this airplane by Silva and his team, but of course various goons are after them. A street gun fight only invites one to make unfavourable comparisons with the one in Heat and wonder why on earth Michael Mann was kind enough to allow the viewer the privilege of being able to properly see and enjoy what he’d come up with while Berg obviously feels differently. Eventually it all winds up in a large apartment block, which may reward those who’ve ever wandered what The Raid would have been like if it had been directed by a monkey on steroids – or maybe a baboon considering how torn to shreds the action is. Capoeira master Lateet Crowder shows up, and the mouth waters at the prospect of a showdown of Capoeira versus Silat, but the potential is completely wasted. Alice’s really brutal struggle with a heavy comes off much better because there’s not much martial arts technique to mess up in the filming, and at least there’s commendably little restraint in terms of violence throughout despite this being largely an American production.
Perhaps thankfully, the film doesn’t seem to have a political view, though its idea of wit is having dolls of US presidents set up around Overwatch’s high tech gear that include one of Obama and one of Trump wearing the “Make America Great Again”cap being placed next to each other. The music is your usual sub-Zimmer tedium, these kinds of scores being increasingly interchangeable. I guess that Mile 22 might provide a rush for those action lovers who are fine with its horrible filming style, but nearly the entire film is poorly shot and put together, and one wonders what Berg was trying to achieve. Realism? Getting the viewer to ‘feel’ the action? Gimme a break. Despite the odd good aspect like the performance from Uwais and the lack of obvious digital stuff, his film only really gets reasonable in its final moments which present a rather good twist – though it really belongs to a better picture, and also suggests that there could be a sequel which I hope to God doesn’t happen unless some major replacing takes place.