Film Review: Mine

An American sniper stranded in a mine-filled desert must fight the elements, terrorists, wild animals, his inner demons and loads of symbolism in this low-wattage mess.
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The clichés pile up fast in Mine, a thriller that tries trading off high-concept visuals and gritty realities for a theoretically walloping conclusion that never quite arrives. In some nameless African desert, Marine sniper Mike (Armie Hammer) and his spotter and best friend Tommy (Tom Cullen) are watching their long-awaited target step into their sights. But Mike can’t quite take the shot, being the taciturn thinker with inner demons. Meanwhile, Tommy is the salt-of-the-earth yammerer: “Mike, get yourself out of this spiritual crisis and shoot the guy!” Fate intervenes, they’re spotted, out come the AK-47s, and the two have to beat a hasty retreat into the trackless desert.

Following the initial set-piece, Mine turns into an escalating series of increasingly dire “Now what?” situations. First, they need to escape their pursuers. Then, Mike and Tommy must walk to a faraway village for evacuation. The radio won’t work. A sandstorm approaches. Water is running low. Any rescue won’t be possible for at least 52 hours. The wild dogs that come out at night aren’t scared off by gunshots. There is also the problem of that minefield the Marines blunder into.

Given the hostile terrain and seemingly insurmountable problems, one could imagine this kind of scenario turning into a kind of Earth-bound wartime version of The Martian. That never even comes close to happening. This was preordained by a couple of factors. First is that Hammer is not the kind of performer who can hold one’s attention for long, particularly when he is made to spend a good part of the film essentially immobile (after all, mines). His stolid presence works better in reaction to more quicksilver personalities, and this is in large part a solo piece. Second is that the screenplay doesn’t put any muscle on the film’s rickety frame.

It’s never articulated why these Marines were on assignment in Africa, or what future conflict this is supposed to be part of. The script theoretically has bigger things on its mind, and is using the sprawling nature of the current War on Terror as a conveniently broad canvas for its somewhat generic drama. Instead of taking aim at anything in particular about this or any particular conflict, Mine goes wide and settles for gassy profundities and half-surrealities. (Yes, the dead talk; no, it’s not always clear whether what you’re seeing is actually happening; and no, you won’t particularly care to bother puzzling it out.)

Writing and directing brothers Fabio Resinaro and Fabio Guaglione show an early visual flair and knack for wide, bright compositions that emphasize the sweeping spaces engulfing the characters. But once they strand their film deep in the desert, an unfortunate penchant for hackneyed flashbacks and magical thinking presents itself. Certainly, the Berber tribesman (Clint Dyer) who pops by to deliver grins and fortune-cookie wisdom like “Become a free man” could be a figment of Mike’s imagination. It’s still embarrassing to witness, like most of this ultimately dull exercise in misdirected energy.

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