Director Peter Berg is an absolute wonder with his filming of action sequences. They become almost living things, causing the viewer’s heart to race and adrenaline to surge. They are bloody and brutal and even when something over the top is occurring, they maintain a sense of realism. In his latest collaboration with Mark Wahlberg, “Mile 22,” Berg again offers up some of the finest action you will see at the movies this year.
Wahlberg plays James Silva, the head of an off-the-books squad tasked with running operations that the government would rather not have tied to them. Also on the team are Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan), Sam Snow (Ronda Rousey), and William Douglas III (Carlo Albán) and the main thrust of the plot sees the team trying to traverse 22 miles in a Southeast Asian city to bring an informant to an extraction point. Naturally, over the course of the trip things go very badly, leading to a number of pitched battles.
Although this is the fourth collaboration between Wahlberg and Berg (they previously joined forces on “Lone Survivor,” “Patriot’s Day,” and “Deepwater Horizon”), and although it is Wahlberg whose name is up front on the cast, it is Iko Uwais, who plays the informant, Li Noor, who really steals the show. As an informant, Noor is not trusted by the Americans and he is hated by the government of Indocarr, the nation in which the story is set.
Over the course of the film, we see Uwais execute a number of amazing pieces of close quarters combat. During some of these, Berg opts to momentarily slow down the film to give the viewer an even better look at the most impressive moments of action. It is glorious in its brutality.
It is not just that Noor gets some of the best action, he is also, by far, the most interesting of the characters. We do see Alice struggle with her divorce and being away from her daughter, but there is virtually nothing for the rest of the team outside of the mission. Silva does have a history, but it’s offered during the opening credits and is best used in showing the audience that Noor is, essentially, his mirror.
The greatest strength of “Mile 22” is not the characters, nor the story—although it does have enough twists and turns to stay interesting—but rather the action sequences and Berg’s ability to build tension. There are some gorgeous shots where the camera is overhead or hovering along the ground and rather than simply setting the scene, with a few turns in the camera’s direction, Berg manages to impart a fear to them. It isn’t that we for one minute believe that they are POV moments, but rather the way in which the camera hovers and turns ratchets up the intensity to an amazing degree.
These steady movements are contrasted to the handheld, shaky, quick cuts of action sequences. In Berg’s hands these moments do more than simply offer up the visceral nature of a fight in the way they do with other directors, they—usually—still manage to keep the action clear. It doesn’t always work, but it does more often than not.
Certainly there are moments of brutal, bloody, violence in the movie. More than once during the film I cringed as a bone was broken or an individual was stabbed or shot or died in gruesome fashion. The camera doesn’t linger on these moments, but they are still present and they are designed for maximum effect, which they unquestionably achieve.
Lastly, while the story is focused on the trip on the ground to the destination, the screenplay by Lea Carpenter, from a story by Graham Roland and Carpenter, also weaves in a tale of the Russian military, the “Overwatch” team helping Silva (led by John Malkovich’s Bishop), and a potential chemical agent disaster. So, while a stripped down thriller, it is still a movie that has a number of moving parts and keeps the audience guessing as to what is going to come next.
Unlike the other collaborations between Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, “Mile 22” doesn’t feel like it exists to send a message about our world (although it does offer thoughts on the use of force), but rather to keep audiences at the edge of their seats as fight after fight after fight takes place. Although the saying is overused, “Mile 22” is indeed a rollercoaster and any action fans who see it will think their time and money well spent.
photo credit: STX Entertainment