Mile 22 review

MILE 22

Director : Peter Berg
Cast : Mark Wahlberg, Iko Uwais, Lauren Cohan, John Malkovich, Ronda Rousey, Terry Kinney
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 95 mins
Opens : 16 August 2018

Actor Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg have had one of the most fruitful film industry bromances in recent history. They’ve collaborated on Lone Survivor, Patriots Day and Deepwater Horizon, which were all action dramas based on true events. The duo has taken a detour into straight-up fictional action thriller territory with Mile 22.

Wahlberg plays James Silva, an impatient, misanthropic, tortured but brilliant covert operative of the CIA’s ground branch. The paramilitary force is deployed around the world as a last resort when diplomacy and conventional military options fail. James, alongside Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) and Sam Snow (Ronda Rousey), undertake what should be a routine escort mission.

In a Southeast Asian nation, low-level cop Li Noor (Iko Uwais) has information about an impending terror attack, but will only unlock the USB drive containing the details if he is granted safe passage to the United States. With Bishop (John Malkovich) monitoring the operation from a control centre, James and company take Li to Mile 22, the extraction point. Naturally, multiple obstacles stand in their way, turning Indocarr City into a war zone with the ground branch team at its centre.

Mile 22 sets out to be a no-frills, meat and potatoes action movie. For most of its running time, it’s one protracted chase. It’s kinetic and violent and keeps moving. In a sense, it harks back to something like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. The problem with Mile 22 is in how it attempts to set itself apart from other action movies. More pressingly, the problem with Mile 22 is how much hinges on Mark Wahlberg.

This reviewer, unlike Berg, is no fan of Wahlberg’s. It’s extremely hard to take him seriously as an intense, hardened paramilitary operator. The film’s screenplay by Lea Carpenter gives James Silva a stock tragic backstory, but also makes him a high-functioning super-genius with no social skills. This means that being horrible to everyone around him is James’ distinguishing trait, and as a result, he’s a bad leader. If you thought it was hard to buy Ben Affleck as a math whiz/trained killer in The Accountant, it is so much harder buying Mark Wahlberg as a character along those lines. It is also baffling that a key plot point turns on a reference to a famous Saturday Night Live sketch lampooning Wahlberg. If you recognise the line, it’ll pull you straight out of the movie.

Mile 22 strains for relevance, to the point of slipping in news footage of the Trump/Kim summit in Singapore in the opening credits montage. There’s talk about election hacking and Russian collusion, but all the topical hot-button chatter feels like window dressing for what should be an efficient, uncomplicated action movie. The authenticity and real-world grounding the film strives for is also undercut by how most of it takes place in a fictional country named Indocarr, in which the main spoken language appears to be Bahasa Indonesia. Bogota, Colombia provides the humid, grey, densely-packed cityscape of Indocarr City.

Mile 22’s biggest asset is Iko Uwais, star of the modern day action masterpiece The Raid. This is a bona fide action star, extremely proficient in silat and demonstrably brilliant at realising and executing intricate fight choreography. Mile 22 gives Uwais his meatiest Hollywood role so far, but his mesmerising stunt work is done a great disservice by breakneck Hollywood action movie editing. The film’s central martial arts sequence, in which Li Noor is handcuffed to a hospital bed and battles a team of enemy agents who have infiltrated the embassy in which he’s being held, should be a dazzling display of fisticuffs. Alas, it seems to have been put in a blender.

There is deliberately very little to the other characters, but what little there is feels melodramatic and extraneous to the action. The chief example of this is Alice’s divorce subplot. Giving the female lead a domestic crisis to deal with in addition to the mission at hand can sometimes shade the character and add a little depth, but here, it’s just distracting.

The film tries to give Cohen and Rousey memorable moments, but because of how frenetic and noisy everything is, anything distinctive about their characters gets lost in the mishmash. John Malkovich stands around the control room yelling into a radio. Anyone looking forward to K-pop star CL’s role should take note that her character Queen amounts to a random techie.

There is something to be said about how propulsive and viscerally violent Mile 22 is, and it’s very clear what kind of movie Berg set out to make. It gets halfway there (Mile 11?), and the elements that wind up working against Mile 22, like the expletive-laden overcooked tough guy dialogue and how grating the lead character is, could have easily been fixed early on. Once the movie gets into gear, it doesn’t pause for nearly all of its 95-minute runtime, so if you can tolerate Wahlberg and some of the tonal weirdness, it is possible to enjoy this action movie.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Patriots Day

For F*** Magazine

PATRIOTS DAY 

Director : Peter Berg
Cast : Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Michael Beach, Jimmy O. Yang, Melissa Benoist, Rachel Brosnahan, Christopher O’Shea
Genre : Drama/Historical/Thriller
Run Time : 2 h 13 min
Opens : 12 January 2017
Rating : M18

patriots-day-posterFollowing Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg have re-teamed for a third film based on a recent tragedy. Patriots Day centres on the bombing of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Boston Police Department Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg) is on duty at the finish line when the bombs go off. As the city is stricken by shock and grief, Saunders joins the effort to hunt down the perpetrators, brothers Dzhokhar (Wolff) and Tamerlan (Melikidze) Tsarnaev. Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (Goodman) and FBI Special Agent Rick DesLauriers (Bacon) coordinate the manhunt. Dzhokhar and Tamerlan steal a car from Dun Meng (Yang), the brothers eventually engaging in a fierce firefight with Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (Simmons) and his men in a quiet Watertown neighbourhood.

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It’s a question that gets asked any time a film based on actual tragic events, particularly recent ones, is made: is this exploitative? There isn’t a clear answer to that question where a film like Patriots Day is concerned, since so many factors must be considered. Some who have lived through the Boston Marathon bombing have condemned the film as opportunistic and insensitive, while others have voluntarily taken part in its production in the hopes that the stories of the heroism and perseverance in the wake of the attack are told. Patriots Day concludes with tributes to the three civillians who were killed in the blast, in addition to interviews with survivors and law enforcement personnel. While it is respectful in that regard, one could argue that nobody really needs to see maimed victims lying in the streets, complete with close-ups on gory makeup effects.

One aspect of the story that’s noticeably omitted is the death of Sunil Tripathi, a student at Brown University who was misidentified as a suspect in the bombing and was hounded by online vigilantes. His death was ruled a suicide. While it’s likely that this is because there’s enough going on in the film as it is, it can be interpreted as a reluctance to confront challenging issues like racial profiling.

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Patriots Day works best as a procedural, detailing the detective work that went into tracking down those responsible for the terrorist attack. In a warehouse, crime scene analysts reconstruct a mock-up of Boylston Street, where the bombs went off, determining which security cameras might have caught a glimpse of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan. The firefight between the brothers and Watertown police is an intense, impactful action sequence that is visceral and unnerving. Berg avoids the gloss of blockbuster action thrillers while keeping things tense and propulsive. When Patriots Day goes the docu-drama route, it feels like a big-budget version of the re-enactments one would see in a National Geographic program. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is not one of their most remarkable, but the droning electronica does an adequate job of signalling impending dread.

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The character of Tommy Saunders is a fictional one, a composite of Boston police officers who functions to string the events in a linear fashion. He’s there when the bombs go off, he’s there at the gas station after the Tsarnaev brothers escape, he’s there at the firefight, and he’s there when Dzhokhar is captured after hiding in a boat. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be more obvious that Saunders is a plot device, albeit one that’s justified. Wahlberg makes a valiant effort, but comes up short, especially when he’s sharing the screen with actors like Bacon, Goodman and Simmons. When Saunders objects to the way DesLauriers is running things, it comes off as petulant rather than impassioned. For most of the film, Wahlberg wears this expression which is someone between a look of surprise, and the face you make seconds before you sneeze.

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As with most procedurals, it is the characters’ function more than who they are which matters, which is just an exigency of films of this type. While the afore-mentioned trio of Bacon, Goodman and Simmons (a show about the three of them heading up a law firm would be insanely entertaining) don’t get to show the range they’re capable of, they’re all convincing and steadfast.

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Both Wolff and Melikdze refrain from going over the top as the Tsarnaev brothers, with Wolff being the right shade of annoying in the moments when Dzhokhar displays expected teenager traits. As Tamerlan’s wife Katharine, Melissa Benoist, TV’s Supergirl, displays her dramatic chops in an intense interrogation scene opposite Khandi Alexander. Alas, the female characters in general get overlooked, with Michelle Monaghan having close to nothing to do as Saunders’ wife. The closest Patriots Day gets to outright sentimentality are the scenes with newlyweds Patrick Downes (O’Shea) and Jessica Kensky (Brosnahan). Their story is as romantic as it is inspiring and moving, but the attempts at ‘aww shucks’ couples banter border on grating.

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For this reviewer, it was Jimmy O. Yang’s turn as Dun Meng that was the revelation. O. Yang is known to fans of Silicon Valley as Jian Yang, in which he displays impressive comedic chops. In Patriots Day, the scenes in which the Chinese app-developer is at the mercy of the Tsarnaev brothers turn out to the most harrowing and suspenseful in the film.

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Patriots Day is riveting, compelling and moving, but it’s difficult to shake the notion that even if it wasn’t made for the sole purpose of profiting off tragedy, it’s still profiting off tragedy. Then again, any studio film is made primarily to turn a profit, so at the risk of sliding down a slippery slope, we’ll end our review here.

Summary: Patriots Day is solidly constructed and resonant, but making its main hero a fictional character for expedience of storytelling is just one of several ways in which it is possibly distasteful.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong