Film reviews: Mile 22 | The Little Stranger | The House with a Clock in its Walls

Mark Wahlberg in Mile 22
Mark Wahlberg in Mile 22
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With its ludicrous plot, relentless pace and eye-watering violence, Pete Berg’s Mile 22 is trash – but it’s well-made trash, and gives us Marky Mark as a Rain Man Jason Bourne, writes Alistair Harkness

Mile 22 (18) ****

The Little Stranger (12A) **

The House with a Clock in its Walls (12A) **

Mantangi/Maya/M.I.A. (18) ****

Faces Places (12A) ****

Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg continue their entertainingly high-octane working relationship with Mile 22, another ripped-from-the-headlines-style thriller given an ultra jacked-up action movie work-out. Following real-life dramas Lone Survivor, Patriots Day and Deep Water Horizon, Berg gets back to fiction with this hi-tech paramilitary thriller about an elite CIA kill squad so off-the-books they’re expected to resign their commission whenever an operation requiring their particular set of skills also requires complete deniability.

Wahlberg takes the lead as Jimmy Silva, the unit’s hilariously conceived leader, a maverick agent whose on-the-spectrum backstory makes him an ultra-focused tactical specialist with no filter when it comes to interacting with his team and a brain that works so fast he has to snap the elastic band he wears around his wrist to remind himself to take a breath once in a while. If the notion of Marky Mark as a Rain Man Jason Bourne already sounds wild, it gets better: dispatched to a never-identified South East Asian country to track down information on a terrorist plot to unleash pockets of radioactive dust with the power to simultaneously decimate multiple cities around the world, he has to babysit cop-with-a-conscience Li Noor, who has vital intel but won’t give it up without US asylum.

Played by The Raid’s Iko Uwais, Li has skills of his own, as evidenced by savage way he dispatches a couple of covert assassins while handcuffed to a gurney deep within the US embassy. Thenceforth the film becomes a deranged mash-up of The Raid and the old Clint Eastwood thriller The Gauntlet, with Silva and his team (which features a stand-out turn from The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan as his kick-ass prodigy) forced to high-tail it across a hostile 22-mile stretch of the city to a landing strip in order to get Li in the air before the booby-trapped flash-drive he’s supplied the Americans wipes out the information they’re after forever.

Edited to within an inch of its life and revelling in prolonged bouts of eye-watering violence, Mile 22 is every bit as outrageous as it sounds. Sure, it’s trash, but it’s exceedingly well-made trash that fulfils the genre’s primary function as disreputable Friday night entertainment.

A horror movie that’s afraid of being a horror movie, The Little Stranger sees Room director Lenny Abrahamson stripping this adaptation of the Sarah Waters best-seller – about a once-wealthy family and the working-class interloper beguiled by their fading grandeur – of its supernatural intrigue. More interested in the story’s potential as a metaphorical exploration of the Second World War’s disruption of the British class system, the film confines the haunted house element of its gone-to-seed family’s collective torment to the margins, focusing instead on the toxic effect the lingering ghosts of wealth and privilege have on a social-climbing local doctor (Domhnall Gleeson) too blinded by his past to see his own value as a member of the rising professional classes. Despite strong performances from Gleeson, Will Poulter and especially Ruth Wilson, the film’s determination to prioritise theme over story turns it into a somewhat clenched academic exercise.

The House With a Clock in its Walls, Eli Roth’s first foray into family-friendly filmmaking, sees the horror director stumble with a fairly generic tale about an orphaned weirdo who’s inducted into a secret world of magic by his warlock uncle (Jack Black). Though based on a 1973 children’s novel by John Bellairs, there’s not much to distinguish this from the raft of Harry Potter imitators that have come in the wake of the boy wizard’s world-conquering success. Cate Blanchett enlivens proceedings slightly as a good witch with a tragic past, but too much of the narrative falls back on plot twists that come out of nowhere for us to care much about the fate of its characters.

Long before she became a multi-million-selling hip hop artist, Matangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, better known by her stage name M.I.A., was a relentless chronicler of her own life, crudely documenting her unique story as a Sri Lankan-born, London-raised Tamil refugee in home movies, then making inroads as a documentary filmmaker at art school. That gives Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., Steve Loveridge’s insider account of her rise to prominence as an activist and artist, a real sense of lightning being captured: we see her frequently maligned political consciousness developing in tandem with her artistic persona. The end result is a fascinating portrait of a fearless woman willing to stand up for what she believes in, often in defiance of an industry that’s all about protecting the bottom line.

Faces Places, the latest film from 90-year-old Agnès Varda, sees the doyen of the French film industry teaming up with 30-something photographer JR to travel around the country creating wonderfully life-affirming art installations comprised of giant photographs of locals plastered over buildings related to their lives. Varda and JR prove quite the double act and the joy they bring each other and those they meet proves infectious.

That said, not everyone is charmed. An attempt to visit her old friend Jean-Luc Godard reveals the pioneer of the French New Wave to be a bit

of an arse, yet this only serves to remind us that this other pioneer is a genial genius whose importance to the history of cinema is just as

vital. ■