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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Mile 22 movie review: unfortunately no one can be told what any of it means

Mile 22 red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Welcome to the first action movie of the Trump era, wherein civil liberties are a distant fantasy and “no man left behind” has been forgotten, yet this is all “a higher form of patriotism.”tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, female coscreenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

Welcome to the first action movie of the Trump era — he actually gets a soundbite in the opening-sequence montage in which US Presidents extol the virtues of the American covert services — wherein civil liberties are a distant fantasy and “no man left behind” has been forgotten, yet this is all “a higher form of patriotism.” This is what gritty, “realistic” action movies have come to: no honor, no dignity, just bland cover for sociopathic expediency in the name of duty. Thank god Mile 22 doesn’t actually succeed in selling any of this: it believes itself clever but is nothing of the sort, and its generic yet unintelligible blandness conveys not one moment of excitement or engagement.

In an unnamed Asian city, operatives of — according to the movie’s marketing — “the CIA’s most highly prized and least-understood unit” are chasing down a weapons-grade-cesium macguffin when they acquire a human macguffin, an informer (Iko Uwais: Star Wars: The Force Awakens) who will tell them where to find the cesium only once he is on US soil. So now James Silva (Mark Wahlberg: All the Money in the World) and his team must race the informer across town while the baddies who don’t want the turncoat to talk try to stop them.

Mile 22! Costarring Carlo Alban, Ronda Rousey, a fuckton of bigass guns.

Mile 22! Costarring Carlo Alban, Ronda Rousey, a fuckton of bigass guns.

To call this fourth collaboration between director Peter Berg and star Wahlberg (the previous one was Patriots Day) incoherent would be a kindness. It’s mostly impossible to tell what’s going on in the copious action sequences. (Why would Berg cast a martial artist like Uwais if the director wasn’t going to shoot him in a way that lets us appreciate his brutal athleticism?) But even when we are given information, that never makes any sense, either; the ticking-clock urgency of the final act is discussed but not actually justified. Unless, of course, that a race against time is seen as shortcut to juicing up the thrills when the characters are cardboard and the dialogue is nothing but wiseass quips or — when things are meant to get serious — buzzwords and clichés; something about “hearts and minds”?

If Mile 22 hoped to educate us on this misunderstood CIA unit, we’re none the wiser by the end of the movie. (Hell, we never even learn what the title means.) Except that they’re all very, very angry, and shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near guns.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other releases.


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Mile 22 (2018) | directed by Peter Berg
US/Can release: Aug 17 2018
UK/Ire release: Sep 19 2018

MPAA: rated R for strong violence and language throughout
BBFC: rated 18 (strong bloody violence)

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • susmart3

    What, nothing about Ronda Rousey, who has given up MMA fighting entirely now to be in the movies?

  • You may presume from my lack of comment on her work here that she doesn’t particularly distinguish herself. That’s mostly the movie’s fault, but what were you expecting me to say?

  • susmart3

    Just something as to this might be a good career move or she shouldn’t have bothered.

  • I doubt she’s getting many good opportunities to advance her acting career, which isn’t a reflection on her but on the extremely limited choices women in Hollywood have.

  • RogerBW

    The quote atttributed to Orwell, though not actually found in his writing, about “We sleep peaceably in our beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on our behalf” is perversely appealing to a certain type of person – yeah, those sheep can never understand what needs to be done to keep them safe, and that’s why we need to get rid of due process and lawyers and the idea of “war crimes”, ‘cos a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

    I have very little interest in films that follow this philosophy, especially when they end up super-grim and forget to be at all fun.

  • Danielm80

    Mostly, I find that when films raise these sorts of issues, they fall into one of three categories:

    (1.) We have no choice but to commit terrible acts of brutality.

    (2.) We must never commit such immoral acts, because it would cost us our souls.

    (3.) Gosh, it’s a moral quagmire isn’t it? I don’t really know the answer, but isn’t it daring of me to raise the questions?

    The movies in category three appeal to me the most, but I prefer the rare films that actually try to answer the questions (though very few come to mind).

  • RogerBW

    I think there’s a multidimensional aspect to it – I can still enjoy Schwarzenegger’s Commando because that’s basically cartoon violence that happens to use live actors. It’s when a film tries to be gritty and real, but at the same time indulges in the horrible things, that it completely loses me.

  • With the caveat that I’m not a Orwell scholar, I wonder if the phrase isn’t a paraphrase of a line from his essay on Rudyard Kipling: “He sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men,
    inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them.”

    In context, it’s not part of an endorsement of Jack-Baueresque torture but a damning indictment of the Left’s relationship to Empire.

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