‘Mile 22’ Review

Compact and just coherent enough

Mile 22

"Welcome to the new wars."

"We are about to kill the idea that we are weak."

"They are engaged in a higher form of patriotism."

"This is the shittiest most fucked up shit."

Mile 22 doesn't deal in platitudes so much as luxuriate in them, elevate them. James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) and his team of American paramilitary operatives are "option three"—when diplomacy and the military fail, you call in Overwatch to clean up the mess.

We get a sense of Overwatch's talents in the film's opening scene, an assault on an FSB safe house in suburban America. They are technologically superior, with eyes in the sky via drones and eyes on the ground via hacked closed circuit TV feeds. And they are tactically superior, the team using misdirection to gain entry to the house and a combination of gunplay and hand-to-hand skills to keep the Russians they find in check.

It's the best sequence in the film, in part because we get such a good sense of the geography of the location before the attack begins, knowledge that diminishes the distracting effect of the hyperactive editing deployed by Melissa Lawson Cheung and Colby Parker Jr. (who has worked with director Peter Berg before on Patriots Day, Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor, Battleship, Hancock, The Kingdom, and Friday Night Lights).

That editing work becomes a problem after we're introduced to Li Noor (Iko Uwais), the individual Overwatch will, eventually, be charged with extracting from an unnamed Southeast Asian country. The ads for Mile 22 have promised something like a mix of Mad Max: Fury Road and The Raid: Redemption: Silva's team has to make it through 22 miles of hostile enemy territory (the Fury Road part) in order to deliver Li Noor, a whirling dervish who specializes in hand-to-hand combat to an American airplane (Iko Uwais played the lead in The Raid).

But the quick edits undercut any power the movie might have had. It's especially frustrating to watch Iko Uwais do his thing—it feels as though we switch perspective via quick cuts after virtually every blow lands. The cumulative effect of chopping the film apart and putting it together so quickly gives us no sense of his skill, no appreciation of his efforts. There's no comparison to The Raid, in which Gareth Evans moved the camera to guide our eye to what was important in each individual shot: a front kick repelling an attacker, a foot sliding a machete across the floor to remove it from the battle. The edits in The Raid were clean and clear, keeping the action flowing like a river. The edits in Mile 22, meanwhile, feel more like someone thrashing about in a pool. There's action, but it's harder to track and you feel kind of like you're drowning while watching it.

Disappointment in the hand-to-hand combat scenes is leavened by the fact that most everything else about Mile 22 is quite enjoyable. It's surprisingly funny, for a movie about semi-legal murder. Mark Wahlberg's open-mouthed, wide-eyed looks of faux-surprise hit just the right note on the sarcasm scale. John Malkovich, playing the head of Overwatch's technologically advanced intel operation, is amusingly curt in a role that doesn't ask him to do much more than shout lines into the air so they can be transmitted around the world.

The standout for me, though, was Lauren Cohan. Long familiar to fans of The Walking Dead, Cohan is brusque and tough when dealing with terrorists and teammates, yet believably sweet and frustrated when dealing with her dick of a husband and their divorce proceedings. Cohan has real screen presence and looks capable of making the leap from TV to film, rarely an easy chasm to cross.

If I had to guess, many audiences are going to be put off by the ending—what was sold as The Raid meets Fury Road also has a dash of Atomic Blonde and Jack Ryan. Mile 22 is very much a spy thriller, concerned with undercover assets and double crosses and Russians behaving badly, one that concludes with a platitude (which I shan't spoil) as broad as any of the others mentioned above.