Written by: Patrick Howard
Mile 22 (Peter Berg, 2018) 1 out of 4 stars.
In the past five years, audiences – blessed with the sublime action of Mad Max: Fury Road, John Wick, Atomic Blonde, and, most recently, Mission: Impossible – Fallout – could let out a sigh of relief and finally look forward to seeing well-crafted action blockbusters at the cinema again. Sadly, from time to time, a streak must be shattered by an unexpected black sheep. Peter Berg’s Mile 22 is an absent-minded exercise of favorite filmmaking techniques and clichés of action cinema of the past 15 years. Berg wants us to know that he has seen action scenes filmed with a shaky camera. He wants us to know he has seen action films containing fast-paced conversations between characters. And he wants us to know he has heard characters in action movies throw insults and a few casual uses of the f-word to create genuine comradery.
What Berg doesn’t want us to know is that he doesn’t understand why or how these techniques and clichés became so popular in the first place. He crafts an action scene in Mile 22 the same way a slacking college student rushes while writing an essay on, let’s say, the history of farming and agriculture of the ancient Mayan civilization. Sure, the student got it done on time and polished the paper with a superfluous revision, but he, at the same time, forwent any substantial time and dedication to create a unique perspective on a well-combed topic.
To say the characters of Mile 22 are nothing more than age-old archetypes is quite tricky for only one reason: Berg and screenwriter Lea Carpenter refuse to pump the brakes and allow us to get a concrete understanding of who these people are. Mark Wahlberg’s James Silva is somewhat similar to Ben Affleck’s autistic character in 2016’s The Accountant: a hyper-intelligent and unbelievably skilled marksman who is unable to understand familiar social cues. However, this character trait in Wahlberg’s Silva is boiled down to a quick visual act of him snapping a rubber band wrapped around his wrist to tell us when he’s thinking too hard. If there was any other development for his character or his team, then it was thrown out into the nauseating chaos of the film’s explosions and gunplay, never to be seen again.
In hindsight, there was not a lot of potential to wow audiences with a script like the one Mile 22 possesses, but it did hold some possibility of being entertainingly bonkers or, at the very least, passable. Peter Berg (Patriots Day) has proven in the past that he knows how to create serviceable action scenes and provoke real emotions from his actors. This knowledge alone is what makes Mile 22 so infuriating to watch. Still, one can take some solace knowing Hollywood continues to invest its time and resources in action-genre filmmakers like David Leitch (Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2) or Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible – Fallout), who know what they are doing and can do it with an impressive amount of class.