Ever since the beginning of cinema, actors and directors have been teaming up to produce multiple projects together. Leonardo Dicaprio was just another pretty face before Martin Scorcese made him an actor; Wes Anderson’s phone number is the only one Bill Murray will ever answer; Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater break all kinds of boundaries; Tim Burton and Johnny Depp share the same brain; and John Ford and John Wayne are probably still making movies together in heaven. What makes them work so well together is because each pair have a unique brand; you always know what you’re going to get when you walk in the theater. One of the more recent actor/director collaborations is Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg, who have made four films together over the last five years (two of which opened in 2016). The first three were powerful true stories of harrowing bravery in the face of tragedy. Their newest partnership, Mile 22, is miles from their previous jaunts together, but nevertheless stays true to their brand.
Wahlberg plays James Silva, a man recruited by a clandestine government agency because of his wild temper and unfortunate upbringing. He’s a man without morals, without shame. He talks in narcissistic tones and rattles off his beliefs to perpetrators as if he’s channeling a ’90s version of Denis Leary. And he’s ruthless when it comes to his job, getting the work done no matter the cost. He’s paired with a team of similar, like-minded anti-heroes, none more so than Alice Kerr (an aggressively foul-mouthed Lauren Cohan), who must use a sensitivity divorce app so that her mouth doesn’t get her in hot water with her ex-husband (Berg) and give him fuel for the custody fire. She’s feminine on the outside, hot-wire testosterone on the inside.
While stationed at the U.S. embassy in China during an operation to track down some weaponized gas, a man (Iko Uwais) walks up to the embassy with a hard drive that holds the key to where the gas is located around the world. The only way to get those answers is to provide him with asylum to the U.S. There’s a time limit, though, as the ability to enter the code that will unlock what they need only lasts for several hours. Silva’s team, then, must get this man twenty-two miles to an airfield while being tracked by a shady Chinese government that wants him silenced.
This is the first time Wahlberg and Berg have partnered on a fictional story and one that doesn’t portray Wahlberg as a standard hero — someone who beats the odds while saving lives under the rule of law and integrity. Silva is a degenerate through and through, having to snap a rubber band on his wrist in order to ease his temper. It’s these little quirks, though, that add to the character and give him his arresting personality. It’s hard to relate to Silva, not like the characters Wahlberg has embodied in the past, but the more you learn how abused his mind is, the more you understand him and realize he isn’t so different after all.
It’s also through this character trait that Berg creates the visually kinetic world Silva lives in. On the surface, the film feels tensely frenetic. Choreographed fight scenes and chase sequences edited like a music video on crack. Even the simple dialogue and exposition scenes move too fast to catch your breath. But this visually hungry style digs deep within what makes Silva tick; Berg is showing us how fast and intense Silva’s mind actually is, and when you can’t escape the speed and chaos of this type of reality, how else are you going to present yourself to the world. It’s just one more layer to Silva’s character and both Wahlberg and Berg pull it off beautifully.
A lot of the humor also stems from this gruff, no holds-barred, boys-club attitude. The banter between teammates causes not only friction, but a hostility that leaves you with nothing else to do but laugh so as to release some of your own tension. Along with that, writer Lea Carpenter provides us with authentic-feeling dialogue between Silva’s team and Overwatch, a group of geeks sitting behind computers run by Bishop (John Malkovich), who see all and know all as they guide Silva’s team through the bedlam distracting them from getting to their destination. Watching how this team communicates is a wonder in itself.
Where the script falls a bit short is in the development of plot and key character aspects. Carpenter is so immersed in getting to the twisty reveal at the end of the film that they set things up that never really pay off. Case in point: as Silva’s team tries to get their “package” to the airfield, a couple of hackers remain behind to break the code in case things don’t work out. We get some crazy banter about signatures and the like and one of the hackers tries to find out who was behind building the encryption. This person is eventually revealed, but so arbitrarily, it’s a wonder why so much attention was paid to this aspect of the film.
But is that ultimately the point? Throughout the film, Berg cuts to Silva being interrogated about the mission, and if you’re really paying attention, a lot of what he has to say is in the undertones of the words themselves — that no matter how much you think you’re safe, or how well orchestrated everything is, there really is no point to anything that happens. Life isn’t some calculated game; it’s a mess of circumstance that no one can fully plan for, and when things get ugly, the only thing to do is step up and do what’s necessary to complete the mission.
And therein lies the true testament to Wahlberg and Berg’s collaborations. Mile 22 may be a gritty, less sympathetic way to showcase their message, but in the end, Wahlberg’s character is simply trying to save lives and do so without the help of anyone but himself. It’s not perfect, but it fits and does what it sets out to do, and in that way, Wahlberg and Berg produce yet another win in their growing repertoire.
My Grade: A
Alpha, a dreary story of how the dog (or in this case, wolf) first became “best friends” with man, spends so much time winking at its own cleverness and “authenticity” that it forgets to imbue its tale with fulfilling, heartwarming substance. B-
Though every story line is utterly predictable, Dog Days still pulls at the heartstrings with a Gary Marshall-level symphony of emotions, bringing together a fun cast of characters to deliver a simple message: love in all forms is possible — so as long as you have a dog. B+
Next week, new movies include A-X-L, Searching and The Happytime Murders. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.