Peter Berg gets America. From the small town pathos of Friday Night Lights to the quiet resilience of Patriots Day, his films place everyday Americans in testing scenarios, be they big or small. His latest film, Mile 22, sets its scope wider. Aiming to comment on the state of the geopolitical world and the US’s place in it, the result can be messy, even if the action choreography hits its mark.
The broad premise is simple. James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) and his team of shadowy accomplices need to exfiltrate a low-level policeman in the hope of averting chemical attacks across the globe. So, get A to B to avoid C. What could possibly go wrong? Unsurprisingly, the answers are numerous. Wahlberg himself is impulsive and twitchy in the lead role. Alongside the rest of the team, his backstory and motivations are dealt with fleetingly. Indeed, the film seems largely uninterested in its human components.
Away from the ostensibly simple plot, the politics of Mile 22 are barbed. At ‘Overwatch’ HQ, there are bobbing heads of Presidents past and present; their fake, plastic grins casting a knowing eye over clandestine killing. The split between the cheerful idealism of America and the more unsavoury realities of its actions are made explicit. Accordingly, there’s a palpable lack of belief in conventional politics. When diplomacy and warfare fail, Overwatch are the “3rd Option.”
Silva, the man who, perhaps gratingly, is tasked with persistently vocalising the complexities of the world, obviously sees a need for these impulsive actions. This leaves the viewer at least partially willing to see the sense in bypassing regular civility in favour of a decisive, brutal approach. Yet the film’s final sting perhaps throws caution to such recklessness. Unlike Berg’s earlier collaborations with Wahlberg, where the underlying grit and character of everyday Americans shine through, Mile 22 focuses on an America left outgunned and outmanoeuvred. Above all, it’s an America left embarrassed.
Aside from the messy, at times conflicting, political analogues, the film is desperate to showcase its physical prowess. It’s a lithe, muscular production with blood and dirt deep beneath its fingernails. The fight choreography is indebted to The Raid, and it is therefore fitting that the star of this particular show is Iko Uwais, the laconic presence who Overwatch are bound to protect. If the film as a whole doesn’t shy away from the viscousness of the modern world, neither do its action scenes. Unlike the sleekness of something like John Wick, this is unrelentingly grim. Full disclosure; a film for the squeamish this is not.
Mile 22’s ambition is often its undoing. Its attempts to unpack an ambiguous world linger on the impact of consequences, yet its conclusions are muddled. These attempts only bookend the film and it’s at its best when rearing its head as a nasty, visceral action movie. It lacks the nuance and underlying emotional intelligence of Berg and Wahlberg’s previous efforts, but at least partially succeeds in staging the opposite of a heist movie.