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Soundtrack review: Mile 22 (Jeff Russo – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Mile 22 (Jeff Russo – 2018)



“Mile 22” is a 2018 American action thriller film directed by Peter Berg and written by Lea Carpenter, from a story by Carpenter and Graham Roland. The film stars Mark Wahlberg, John Malkovich, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, Ronda Rousey, and follows an elite CIA task force, composed of paramilitary officers from Ground Branch of Special Activities Division, that has to escort a high-priority asset 22 miles to an extraction point while being hunted by terrorists. It marks the fourth collaboration between Berg and Wahlberg, following Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day. After Steve Jablonsky and Trent Reznor / Atticus Ross, it’s time for Jeff Russo to score their collaboration.

Russo takes a break from his insanely busy TV schedule to write this and the main title, lean and electronic makes me think of a mix of Trevor Rabin and Harry Gregson Williams which is right up my alley since their actions scores always work for me. I get 90s flashback as this electronic piece also includes some subtle heroic motifs. It’s a familiar and comfortable sound for me. Once the opening titles are out of the way the mood changes instantly as if the sun got cloudy within seconds; the electronic feel remains but the pace gets more frantic and a brass section motif in the background adds to the tension while in the same time making the music feel less claustrophobic. Call me crazy but the brash and cold military vibe makes me think of Jerry Goldsmith’s “First blood” scores if they were written 30 years later.

My gripe with recent thriller scores has been the generic dark tense sound they all seemed to employ, probably at the request of the director or producer. Even some HGW scores in the past few years have been lacking so it’s refreshing to hear an actually meaningful take on this sound; Jeff Russo still gets dark, still gets tense but steers his compositions towards a more understandable light. Here and there short orchestral motifs break the tension, like sniper lights shooting at precise intervals. “Silva” is one of the cues that show why I am enjoying this score so much, both tense and melancholic. I had the same reaction when I heard his “Star Trek: Discovery” scores; it’s like he found a loophole to make familiar sounds feel fresh and work on their own as well.

“Overwatch variation” is another cue that makes tension sound different and makes me feel as if I am part of the story. The music makes me curious as to what comes next so I don’t need the movie to enjoy the music. The suspense is believable and keeps me on the edge. There’s this grinding, ominous sound that is suffocating and visceral; sometimes it gets very close to what I consider to be the gold standard in the genre, Johan Johannsson’s “Sicario”, like in the insane “Street war”. I am always on the lookout for a composition that just embraces tension and takes it to almost unbearable levels and when this is intertwined with melodic moments, we have a winner. Just listen to “Alice” which could easily sit on an MCU score of late. Then there’s a cue beautifully titled “Sweet brutal suite”, almost hallucinatory with the opening, quiet solo piano motif, the wailing violin, and if this plays over a scene in the movie that is a scene I do not want to miss; this is a Jeff Russo special and a bonus for an already excellent score.

“Mile 22” was a big surprise for me; it’s not that I doubted Jeff Russo but I didn’t think a movie like this could still produce meaningful and enjoyable scores that also work standalone; the generic plague that had soured me on thriller scores had been powerful but Jeff Russo found a cure and delivered a solid, visceral ode to unescapable tension with the added bonus of some melodic pieces that will make your day. Do not miss this one.

Cue rating: 88 / 100

Overwatch Variation
Sweet Brutal Suite
Street War
Fight in Apartment
Car Standoff
Final Moves
Mile 22 (End Titles Suite)

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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