Wow! and Double Wow! were my reactions at the conclusion of the screening of Mile 22 which I attended. Clocking in at a short 95 minutes, this covert ops thriller directed by Peter Berg allows Mark Wahlberg, nominated for an Oscar® in 2006 for The Departed, to get a role that plays off his strengths.
The film begins with James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) and others in a tactical command unit outside a suburban home. Two of the operatives, including Alice (Lauren Cohan of “The Walking Dead”), approach the door pretending to be lost and seeking directions. They force their way into the home and are joined by Silva’s team.
The entire operation is being overseen by a remote group called Overwatch led by Bishop (John Malkovich). His team deploy various sensors to “see” the action, such as vital-signs monitors and heat-imaging, relay instructions and respond to the changing situation. The occupants of the home, who are allied in some way with a Russian intelligence operation, are executed and the home destroyed.
The next scene involves what appears to be a debriefing of Silva with a government agent. He is relating the story of what happened, not only at this house, but also, as one discovers later, the rest of the film.
As the opening credits roll, we see images that give a hint as to who James Silva is. He was apparently a gifted child whose parents were killed in an automobile accident. He was pursued by the military and served in Afghanistan. The film hints at his intelligence by showing him completing a jigsaw puzzle made entirely of white pieces.
The action now shifts, with occasional clips of the ongoing debriefing, to Indocarr City, located in “southeast Asia” (per the subtitle). Silva and his team have gone on a spurious mission based on intel from one of Alice’s sources, Li Noor (Iko Uwais), who used to be part of the nation’s police force. We see a brief scene of him burning his credentials.
The team is trying to locate missing cesium which can be used to create thermonuclear weapons of great intensity. While the team is debating how to proceed, Li shows up at the American Embassy where they happen to be, and seeks asylum. He has brought a disk that has the locations of the cesium but it has a password which only he knows. The disk is self-destructing on a timer so there is some urgency in getting him to talk. But he will only talk if he is granted passage to the United States.
Meanwhile, representatives of the host nation show up at the Embassy and demand that Li be turned over to them. While Li is undergoing a medical examination, he is attacked by two thugs but overcomes them in a great martial-arts scene.
The team agrees to give Li asylum but must travel by car 22 miles to the airstrip where a plane will secretly land and pick up Li. Overwatch, led by Bishop, is called in to provide logistical and tactical support, and sets up shop, who knows where. As the team departs the Embassy, they are pursued by what appear to be representatives of the host nation.
The film makes little effort to completely explain what is going on. Clues must be extracted from context, which I truly enjoyed as opposed to tiresome exposition. Even the debriefing, which could have been a tortuous explanation of what happened, is leavened as much with Silva’s reflections as it is with storytelling. The ambiguity is part of the charm of the picture and reflects the ambiguities that the real-life denizens of this world face.
The screenwriter, Lea Carpenter, does a masterful job at creating Silva’s dialogue. As delivered in rat-a-tat non-stop fashion by Wahlberg, it is a combination of stream-of-consciousness, an overload of information, and absolute authority. Bishop also gets some great lines as do various team members.
Wahlberg gives a brilliant characterization as Silva. There is much hinting at what mental disorder he may suffer from, if any. He seems always to be “on,” thinking and planning constantly, sometimes out loud. He snaps a large rubber band around his wrist periodically, and it is implied that the pain focuses him. He never seems overtly emotional in any way, even in the debriefing. Life seems to be a given for him that he accepts.
Berg and Wahlberg have worked together on other films, viz. “Lone survivor,” “Deepwater Horizon,” and “Patriots’ Day.” Their rapport is clearly evident. Berg has made a cottage industry out of these types of action films and he is very well-versed in their language.
The film’s action sequences are fast-paced and come hot and heavy at you. The fight scenes are well-choreographed. Uwais shows himself to be both a capable actor and an excellent martial-arts fighter. The visual effects are top-notch. This is not a film for the squeamish.
Mile 22 is going to polarize audiences. There is not a nice clean feel-good ending. I myself was shocked when the film finished, both because of the brevity of the film in this day and age of two-hour minimum action films but also because there was not a true sense of closure. But again I found this refreshing in its take-no-prisoners attitude.
If you like a great action film with pyrotechnics and martial arts combined with some fabulous, almost film-noir dialogue, this is the movie for you.
Rating: Four and a half out of five stars
CIA operative James Silva leads a small but lethal paramilitary team on an urgent and dangerous mission. They must transport a foreign intelligence asset from an American embassy in Southeast Asia to an airfield for extraction — a distance of 22 miles. Silva and the soldiers soon find themselves in a race against time as the city’s military, police and street gangs close in to reclaim the asset.
Starring LAUREN COHAN, IKO UWAIS, RONDA ROUSEY, TERRY KINNEY and JOHN MALKOVICH, EMILY SKEGGS, CARLO ALBAN, SAM MEDINA, POORNA JAGANNATHAN, CHAE RIN LEE
Story by GRAHAM ROLAND and LEA CARPENTER
Screenplay by LEA CARPENTER
Directed by PETER BERG