The time of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg movies has run its course. They’ve rarely been great (Deepwater Horizon), but they’ve also never been as borderline unwatchable as their recent collaboration, Mile 22. It’s understandable when a director and an actor like working together and keep collaborating, but Berg and Wahlberg are playing into each other’s weaknesses, with Wahlberg’s characters highlighting Berg’s military fetish and Berg letting Wahlberg play vapid “heroes” who need to be the center of attention despite failing to do anything worthy of that attention. Mile 22 is particularly egregious because Wahlberg is so out of his depth playing a ruthless genius, and the script does him no favors with its unquestioning celebration of American military might where fallout isn’t considered; only that we weren’t violent enough in our imaginations in the first place.
James Silva (Wahlberg) is a paramilitary officer in an elite CIA task force that works with the intelligence team Overwatch led by “Bishop” (John Malkovich) who oversees a team of specialists that are also named after chess pieces. Sixteen months after a domestic mission that went south, Silva and his team are in Southeast Asia trying to find a deadly chemical agent. In walks Li Noor (Iko Uwais), a local officer with information on where to find the chemical agent. He’ll only give up its location if Silva and his team escort Li to an airfield and give him asylum in America. Faced with no other options, Silva and his team must make the 22-mile journey from the embassy to the airfield and get Li on the plane safely. Unfortunately, a team of Russian hackers have hacked into Overwatch and are tipping the scales in the corrupt local government’s favor.
To say that the screenwriting on Mile 22 is sloppy would be an understatement. It should be a straightforward, simple plot, not too dissimilar from Berg’s excellent The Rundown where a tough character has to escort another character to an airstrip. And yet Lea Carpenter’s screenplay can’t stop tripping over its own swinging dick. Rather than build up a relationship between Silva and his team, he’s just a raging asshole to everyone, and that’s his “character”. Also, even though Silva is supposedly a genius who thinks so fast he constantly needs to snap a rubber band on his wrist to calm down, neither he nor Overwatch stops to think, “Golly, we can see everything, but the bad guys are always one step ahead of us. How did that happen?” The movie prefers to just pile violence on top of violence, but none of it has weight because this is a world without friendship or camaraderie. It’s Lone Survivor minus caring what happens to your fellow soldiers, so the only thing left is for soldiers to do is to die well.
Berg’s love of the military is no secret, and in some ways, that’s admirable. Movies like Battleship, Lone Survivor, and to a lesser extent Patriots Day are about how men and women in uniform go above and beyond to try and fight as honorable warriors in a world that has no rules. But Berg’s movies never reckon with what a lawless world really means, so they just become empty celebrations of force. Nowhere is that clearer than in Mile 22 where the special agents operate under “a higher form of patriotism” but there’s no questioning of military might that can wipe anyone out at any time or the repercussions from such amoral actions. For Mile 22, violence is gratification, and the fallout of those actions is just a precursor to more violence. The cycle isn’t questioned, but celebrated, which makes for a deeply nihilistic and grotesque experience.