Director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg have developed a rather enviable chemistry over the past six years. Over the course of their collaborations, they have continued to give each other elements that they definitely lacked prior: Berg has been able to get noticed as a filmmaker without having the cinematic headache of Battleship and Very Bad Things weighing him down, and Wahlberg has been given healthy narrative bedrocks from which he can remind everyone that, yes, he is still an amazing actor. However, looking at their fourth collaboration in Mile 22, this well is starting to run dry.
For a start, it seems like whatever sense of restraint Berg previously showcased has been reported ‘missing in action’, as the action beats here frequently enter the realm of exploitative. They are undoubtedly well choreographed and cinematographer Jacques Jouffret definitely shows an ability with framing, so we can see all the hard work, but the amount of sheer gore can come across rather goofy at times. It’s wince-inducing in the extreme, like when Iko Uwais’ special operative uses a broken car window to dispatch an enemy, but not always in the best way.
The approach to action, much like the repeatedly trying-way-too-hard-to-sound-mature dialogue, ends up giving the impression that all this bombast and explosiveness is just masking what is otherwise a plain story. Largely, because it is.
Unlike Berg and Wahlberg’s previous collabs with Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day, this isn’t working from a based-on-actual-events framework. That lack of a tether to something real ends up making the blood and guts feel even more immature, but it also goes some way to explain how aimless a lot of the narrative gets. Yes, even though the main plot is quite straight-forward in its framing around an extraction mission where our leads must get from point A to point B fast, there’s too much here that doesn’t end up adding up to anything. From Wahlberg’s James Silva being implied to be on the autism spectrum (he’s described as having a brain that races too quickly, and his mile-a-minute delivery certainly gets that across), to Lauren Cohan’s Alice who is estranged from her family due to her work. Even with the inclusion of Russians in the narrative to give this some feeling of relevancy, it all feels pointless.
The writing can’t even sell the admission that black ops work like this requires emotional detachment – a common espionage trope – because that would require the audience to actually be concerned about these characters. Between the rather limp characterisation outside of specific markers, the remarkable lack of tension throughout and the weak note it all ends on, and this all feels like a colossal step backwards for everyone involved.