Who would have thought a Mark Wahlberg shoot-’em-up would be of such high quality? I almost missed Mile 22 entirely, but I'm really glad I didn't.
The movie gripped me from its very first moments, when its opening sequence plunges us into a raid on an innocent-seeming domestic home, which is clearly inspired by Sicario.
But instead of an FBI strike force breaching a cartel safehouse, this is a CIA black ops team cracking open a nest of Russian spies on a leafy all-American street. As Mile 22 unfolds we learn more about James Silva (Wahlberg) and his elite crew so we can begin to care about them...
Just in time for the real mayhem to begin in a fictional Southeast Asian country (actually shot in Bogotá, Colombia) — the fact the film is not set in America is a tremendous asset, and if I'd realised that I would have gone to see it a lot sooner.
Another asset is is the fact that it's so strongly directed by Peter Berg, a first class action director. He made Battleship which — don't laugh — I thought was terrific, and recently directed Wahlberg to great effect in Deepwater Horizon. John Malkovich (who is a welcome presence in Mile 22, as Silva's boss, Bishop) was the heavy in Deepwater Horizon.
Before Deepwater, Berg and Wahlberg collaborated on Lone Survivor, which being a relentless depiction of combat was very tonally similar to Mile 22. The big difference — and the big improvement — here is that Mile 22 has female characters on the team, with the laudable Lauren Cohan and Ronda Rousey, as Alice Kerr and Sam Snow.
It may sound odd, hell it is odd, to claim that having women being shot at in a movie is an upgrade. Yet the fact that our heroes are not an all-male macho testosterone fest makes a huge difference to Mile 22.
The movie is written by Lea Carpenter, which may explain the well realised female characters here. She's a novelist whose first book, 11 Days, is currently being adapted for television.
Her screenplay is based on early draft by herself and Graham Roland who has a prestigious string of television credits, writing for Fringe, Lost, Prison Break and — most pertinently here — the new Tom Clancy series.
Mile 22 is a real surprise. It's an exceptional work, and if violent thrillers are your thing you shouldn't miss it. It even has the temerity to avoid the conventional, triumphal, happy Hollywood ending.
(Image credits: Thank you again, Imp Awards... though they're all a bit monochromatic, aren't they?)