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Mile 22

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Viewers care about character in films. Character can be a route into the film’s world, but somewhat controversially this reviewer believes there are other routes and ‘caring about the characters’ is not essential. Indeed, in the case of Mile 22, characterisation is a distraction. In this latest collaboration between Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg after Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor and Patriots Day, Wahlberg plays James Silva, a US special ops agent who is over-characterized. After an opening scene that establishes the remit and lethal abilities of strike team Overwatch, we are treated to a credit sequence that details Silva’s history: identified as ‘gifted’ (which quickly becomes synonymous with ‘troubled’ and ‘mentally abnormal’), his military service, exceptional skills, special forces, recruited to Overwatch, and the rubber band that he snaps on his wrist when his thoughts are too fast for the everyday world. As the film progresses, this rubber band snaps many times, while Silva delivers verbal barrages at his teammates as a form of motivation. The excessive characterisation distracts from the otherwise fairly stripped-down story. Overwatch must transport cop Li Norr (Iko Uwais) through Jakarta to a landing strip 22 miles away (hence the title) so that he can provide vital data about terrorist activity. Along the way they encounter resistance which leads to intense violence, violence that extends into the fabric of the film as well as the narrative. Director Berg mixes multiple formats, from handheld cameras to satellite, drone and security footage, while the present day story flashes forward to a debriefing session. For the most part, this unsteady chronicling effectively conveys a disorientating sense of danger, although it unfortunately obscures Uwais’ martial artistry at several points. A sequence in a tower block with our heroes facing multiple adversaries recalls The Raid, but Mile 22 has a different sort of onslaught. The bombardment of visual information quickly becomes confusing, but this confusion is itself part of the action. In a technologised world of globalisation where US covert ops, Indonesian police and state intelligence, other espionage agencies and civilians violently interact, what can be trusted or depended upon? The double and triple-crossing of the narrative, combined with the disorientating visual grammar, adds up an action thriller that is overwrought and overdone. Nonetheless, Mile 22 is a gripping couple of hours, and an effective product of our troubled and confusing times. Pity about that pesky characterisation.

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