The days of patriotic propaganda films are not dead. The controversy of Birth of a Nation couldn’t kill them, neither could the enjoyable cartoon like Rambo and Commando nor the crap acting of 15:17 to Paris. The propaganda film has been with us since before films had sound and it lives on with the confused, sloppy and upsettingly jingoistic Mile 22.
CIA operative James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) is tasked by his government to get informant Li Noor (The Raid’s Iko Uwais) out of the fictional south-east Asian city of Indocarr. Noor has information on the location of cesium – deadly radioactive powder – which is wanted by the government of this fictional state, the Americans and the Russians.
For such a supposedly simple plot director Peter Berg – who has collaborated with Wahlberg on Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day and now Mile 22 – fumbles it and makes it far more convoluted and messier than it has any right to be.
The first thing students in writing are taught is that any story or essay needs a beginning, middle and end. Every novel and film has them, hell, so does this review. This three act structure is the golden rule for screenwriting. Mile 22 has no third act to speak of. It has an ending to be sure but to say there’s any proper lead up to that ending beyond the over long second act would be wrong. Lea Carpenter’s script feels unfinished, as if swathes of pages were removed and crucial plot points were ironed out to turn Mile 22 into the 94 minute film it apparently had to be. To say the film suffers because of this is an understatement.
One of the most important facets of an action movie is its hero. Especially in the ones that are propaganda in everything but name. The sixth highest grossing film of 2017 was Wolf Warrior 2. A Chinese martial arts movie where actor/director Wu Jing saves a group of Chinese aid workers and African children in some African country. Wu Jing’s character Leng Feng is likeable, funny and a complete badass.
Mark Wahlberg’s character James Silva is none of these things. He’s less uber-mensch more uber-asshole and it does the film no favours in its supposed patriotic message. Both Wolf Warrior 2 and Mile 22 are propaganda films – there’s no working around that. That’s what they are but it’s not all they are.
Mile 22 manages to be a halfway decent action film though it tries it’s hardest to fuck that up as well. In a decision that flies in the face of every great action film Berg opts for shaky cinematography and quick cuts making the work of its one true shining star look almost average.
Iko Uwais is an unparalleled fighter, stuntman and choreographer. His work on the likes of The Raid, The Raid 2 and Headshot has to be seen to be believed. Then it has to be seen again and again just to burn onto the memory how good this man is at what he does. Uwais’ technique makes a mockery of Berg’s Bourne Supremacy-aping camerawork and editing.
The hospital room brawl wouldn’t look out of place in The Raid considering its visceral intensity and Uwais’ sheer skill at beating the shit out of people. It would have been nice for Ronda Rousey to get a few scene stealing jabs in considering her work in The Fast and the Furious 7 as well as the fact she’s a former UFC champion and current WWE champion.
We should expect better of our action movies. They’re not something to just throw on when you’re bored. They’re an art form that should be appreciated as opposed to Mile 22 which should not be appreciated (bar a few scenes). They’re a display of how impressive movie making has become in the hundred years since Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin decided dodging death was worth the money.
Action movies are a dime a dozen and most of them are really good with some of the hardest working people in the film industry. It’s time we gave them their due as the technical works of wonder that they are. Not Mile 22 though, give me Uwais’ scenes on a DVD and throw the rest out.