Mile 22 Mark Wahlberg Iko Uwais Peter Berg john malkovich

Mile 22 is a nauseating, unwatchable mess

Peter Berg was a promising action director until now.

Mile 22 Mark Wahlberg Iko Uwais Peter Berg john malkovich
Mark Wahlberg and Iko Uwais in Mile 22 directed by Peter Berg, also starring John Malkovich

Editing is one of the more inscrutable aspects of filmmaking. It’s obviously essential, but to most audiences, it’s also invisible. A well-edited film generally isn’t noticeable, and whatever we identify as “showy” editing is definitely a conscious choice rather than an accidental failure. Bad editing can be the work of a bad editor, but it can also be the work of a great editor salvaging what is essentially a bad or insufficient directing job. Audiences aren’t privy to the editing process, either, so the picking and pruning process isn’t something we can really judge. But there’s no doubt in my mind that the nauseating military thriller by Peter Berg Mile 22 is a wreck on the editing front. It’s so choppy and souped-up in its sub-Greengrass style that it feels like Berg somehow shot a complex, Syriana-style political thriller and excised an hour of it to turn it into a relentless action thriller. It’s the rare kind of movie that I can describe as both extremely intense and thoroughly terrible.

I suppose you could make a point that Mile 22 feels like you’ve been dosed with trucker speed because it matches what’s going on in protagonist Jackson Silva’s head. The character of Mark Wahlberg is a brilliant, violent, mercurial special forces operative who only cares about work. A life plagued by tragedy and an unnamed mental disorder has made him go all in in his work leading a small group of extremely well-trained, extremely covert special agents led by Bishop (John Malkovich). Silva and his teammates do the hard work that no one else can pull off, like raiding a Russian stash house and eliminating all seven Russian agents in it without mercy. Silva’s biggest gig yet comes in the form of Li Noor (Iko Uwais), a low-level policeman who turns himself in and exposes a looming terrorist threat with one stipulation: he has to be extracted and flown to America before he gives the codes that will disarm the nuke.

If a good thriller can be described as “crackerjack,” Mile 22 takes the form of a much cheaper snack from the dollar store that immediately induces vertigo and nausea. Handheld cameras and incessant cutting define every single scene in the film; exposition, action and sentimental scenes between a team member played by Lauren Cohan and her daughter all have the same pace and style, making Mile 22 a disorienting experience way before it ever gets going. What should be a pretty straightforward movie is rendered into migraine fodder thanks to the editing. I’ve liked most of the other films by Peter Berg, particularly because I’ve felt he understands pacing better than many directors of massive action movies. That theory goes right out the window here as the film swiftly and irreparably becomes a nigh-unwatchable mess.

Let me give you an example: there’s a scene of Wahlberg giving a logorrheic monologue that’s interspersed throughout the film. It’s the kind of flowery dialogue that’s about everything and nothing — it’s pithy, it has lots of one-liners, it sort of matches the action at hand but it sort of doesn’t. Fair enough; this is a common enough trope that isn’t that hard to follow. The monologue, however, is so closely framed by Berg that for 80 per cent of the film’s running time, we have no idea where Wahlberg is, who he’s talking to or what the context is. It’s just an extreme close-up of Wahlberg talking that’s dropped in randomly throughout the film, sometimes intercut with different footage of Wahlberg in a different location doing something else. Maybe Berg is on some next-level galaxy brain shit with this editing, but I have to say I’ve never gotten vertigo from a mid-budget action movie before.

It’s too bad, because Berg’s usual ooh-rah jingoistic bluster has descended into the kind of nihilistic, salt-the-earth approach that also defined the indefensibly nasty / kind of good Sicario: Day of the Soldado. It’s not right-wing or left-wing; it’s “we ripped the wings off and watched it bleed to death.” Everyone and everything is shit in the world of Mile 22; everyone is fucked up and morally bankrupt and none of it matters and exploding innocent people with a drone is a great thing if it gets you where you need to go. Like the aforementioned Sicario sequel, it’s a hopeless middle-finger to the times — but one that never really shakes the dumb action movie shackles.

You’d think that having The Raid’s Iko Uwais as a lead (not to mention Ronda Rousey as one of Silva’s team members) would mean that Mile 22 is, at the very least, dedicated to bringing the bone-crunching martial arts. Uwais has two fight scenes that are probably pretty good in some form or other, but they’ve been chopped up beyond recognition. As an action movie, the film doesn’t have much juice; Mile 22 is constantly cutting back and forth between Mark Wahlberg and the others on the field and John Malkovich (wearing a truly breathtaking wig reminiscent of Becker-era Ted Danson) and a team of non-descript hackers who are controlling Wahlberg’s every move. In other words, it’s half watching someone play a video game and half falling down a flight of stairs over and over and over again. Both of those are bad ways to spend your time; Mile 22 is no different. ■

Mile 22 opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Aug. 17. Watch the trailer here:

Mark Wahlberg, John Malkovich and Iko Uwais in Mile 22 directed by Peter Berg

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