Military movies tend to get away with significant embellishments in their depictions of warfare and the soldier culture, so long as they either captivate with the caliber of action involved or deliver a poignant message about the perils of service. Naturally, the grander the size of the production or the events being depicted, the more chances there are of inaccuracies and general movie-making stumbles; one only needs to turn their sights to a list of issues with Pearl Harbor to underscore that fact. Directors Fabio Guaglione and Fabio Resinaro narrow the physical scope for Mine, telling the story of a sniper in the middle of the desert who accidentally steps on a landmine and must either wait for reinforcements or devise another plan to escape, while opening the possibilities up for a tense one-location thriller and/or a deep psychological examination. Despite the smaller scale and a dedicated Armie Hammer, this tale of shoddy luck and personal reflection suffers from similar issues of unlikelihood as its bigger counterparts, while also lacking the convincing character depth to distract from its wobbly logic.
A pair of Marines are on a high-stakes mission in northern Africa, involving the assassination of a significant target who has emerged from hiding after several months. Positioned some distance away from a meeting point between their target and others coming to meet them, sniper Mike (Hammer) and his spotter Tommy (Tom Cullen) prepare to pull the trigger, but conditions end up not being optimal and they're unable to follow through with the kill. In the confusion, their target's associates spot the soldiers, sending them into a scramble out in the middle of the desert. The chaotic situation seems like it might play out alright until Mike finds himself standing atop a live landmine, unable to move without triggering the device to explode. Due to other soldiers being many travel hours away, having limited food and drink, and communication devices running out of juice, Mike hunkers down for a long wait filled with environmental obstacles and some rumination on what brought him to the fight in the first place.
Fabio Guaglione and Fabio Resinaro deserve some commendation for the upfront, sparse craftsmanship of Mine's naturally bleak aesthetic, capturing the stark expanses of the desert with demoralizing glimpses at the horizon and mild shakiness while the soldiers scramble for sanctuary. The same cannot be said for the conditions that create Mike and Tommy's situation, though, as their script relies on egregious mistakes made by the trained soldiers to create their situation in the desert, from baffling hesitations while attempting to complete their mission to a lack of self-awareness of their conveniently-placed position. Long before Mine even gets to the center of its conceit, the story treads on questionable ground, undercutting the workaday militaristic character moments developing along the way. This is also where the bulk of the "action" goes down in the film, all of which gets suppressed by inadequately thought-out circumstances that engineer Mike and Tommy's journey through a Minefield.
Once the click goes off underneath Mike's foot, Mine gets even tougher to swallow with each minute that ticks off after that. The premise alone sounds outlandish without any obstacles complicating its progression, where a Marine must not distribute weight on this HSE Mine -- "Hollywood Special Effects" Mine -- for many, many hours until reinforcements come to save the day. In the scorching heat and coping with the weight of equipment, a lack of nourishment, and rest deprivation, it's hard to imagine even the most battle-hardened soldier not overly shifting their weight in such a way that'd set off the drama-sensitive explosive device. Hell, it's hard to imagine Captain America himself pulling that off. Mine doesn't stop there, though, hurling weather conditions and other forceful conflicts at Mike that make his continued stability exceedingly hard to believe. The suspense shifts from observing whether Mike can hold out until a squad arrives to the anticipation of what implausible step the story will take next, exactly how unrealistic Guaglione and Resinaro will make the situation appear.
Mine anchors itself on the personal drama being resolved in Mike's head while he endures complications both physical and psychological, and Armie Hammer's performance as the troubled Marine almost makes one want to give the absurd situation the benefit of the doubt. Hammer has struggled to find the right character fit for his charisma and insistence -- he does strike a uniquely appealing chord as an arms dealer in this year's Free Fire -- and the mental space of a soldier who's endured the hardships of parental abuse and discussing war deployment with his girlfriend (Annabelle Wallis) could've become a proper shell for his talent. Mine doesn't dig very deep into Mike's psychological composition, though, where heat-induced flashbacks and conversations with an interestingly loopy Berber (Clint Dyer) from a nearby village clumsily stumble into catharsis for the demons of his past. Creative ambition powers many of these flashback sequences, as well as the reappearance of a visual cue for a calculated emotional impact, but the surrounding psychological thrills are just biding their time.
Within the same ballpark as the frustrating Shia LaBeouf military vehicle Man Down, Mine also heavily leans on a considerable revelation at the very end that completely alters the context of practically everything that precedes Mike's battle against his environment. Similarly, the ways in which this "twist" changes viewpoints of what's happened beforehand also comes across as extremely far-fetched in how it resolves certain oddities in the plot, but this one delivered by directors Guaglione and Resinaro also feels overwhelmingly cheap in how efficiently it does so, further calling into question the legitimacy of the entire scenario. Whatever relevance the psychological drama might've possessed at the end of Mike's journey gets undermined by its inclination toward making a bigger, overdramatic impact, losing sight of its messages in the process. Despite noble intentions, the smaller scale of Mine cannot evade the enormity of its commonsense misfires, and it's hard to walk away from it with something positive to celebrate.
Video and Audio:
There are two extremes to the visual tempo of Mine, and they dictate the quality of Well Go USA's 2.35:1-framed, 1080p AVC transfer. Scenes during the daytime, underneath the harsh blue-skied sunlight of the desert and sporting a bevy of tans, browns, and oranges, the cinematography looks magnificent in high-definition. Color gradation yields an impressive landscape with fluid, convincing shifts in tones along the dunes and within dust clouds, while dirt and grime, beard stubble, and facial lesions reveal razor-sharp fine details. The jittery camerawork struggles against the 24p flow of the disc, creating rigid motion as Mike and Tommy approach the Minefield, but aside from a few nitpicks these desert sequences are striking. Nighttime in the same atmosphere? Eh, not so much. Black levels are heavy and move in on details during close-ups, and the depth of the darkness fluctuates from moderately deep to washed out and tweaked in color. Most of the activity takes place during the day, so the lion's share of Mine does look quite polished on Blu-ray, but not without a few black spots.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track tends to be a stable but entirely unremarkable track, lacking any impressive kick wherever it could possibly pop up. Dialogue stays moderately clear and buoyant, for the most part, but it lacks higher-end clarity and endures enough thinness and muffled strength at the center channel to be noteworthy. Gunshots follow a similar pattern, lacking definition and spatial awareness despite possessing enough midrange heft to get the point across. More assertive elements involving the desert climate and the viciousness of wildlife attacks exert enough strength, and the few sounds of landmines blowing up tap into a pleasing enough array of lower-end response. There isn't a lot of surround activity, though, and the absence of more dynamism eases up on the immersive properties of the psychological thriller. It's certainly suitable, free of distortion and possessing enough crispness to embrace the full experience, but it needed more bang.
The core extra made available for Mine comes in the making-of featurette Mike Is Mine (13:09, 16x9 HD) featurette with Armie Hammer at the center of the discussion, and man, hearing his enthusiasm for the project really, really makes one want to appreciate the film a bit more. He elaborates on the choice of directors, the rigors of weathering the elements imposed upon Mike, the psychology and metaphors involved, and how Hammer got prepared for the role. The piece also features behind-the-scenes footage, including the point in production when Hammer shaved his head before photography, the difficulties in shooting off the coast of Morocco, and how the actor coped with kneeling for a month and a half for the whole shoot.
Also available are a series of Storyboards (4:45, 16x9 HD) with side-by-side comparisons to shots from the film, a series of VFX (5:01, 16x9 HD) progression shots that mostly center on the growingly harsh conditions of the desert atmosphere, a series of four Deleted Scenes, and a Trailer (2:04, 16x9 HD). A DVD Copy of the film has also been included as Disc Two.
It always stings a bit to unload a negative review on a film that attempts a balanced portrayal of the military mindset, one that carries messages about those that serve, both the lives they lived beforehand and their decision to serve in war. Mine, unfortunately, cannot sidestep its inherent issues enough to appreciate the points trying to be made with its psychological heftiness, and it's mostly due to the burden of its unrealistic execution of an already far-fetched premise. Armie Hammer attempts to bring emotional rawness to the plight of a Marine who's stuck standing and kneeling on an active landmine for hours on end, but the absurdity of the situation's persistence against all manner of complications rings out much louder than the stock, mundane examination of his childhood and near-spousal relationship. Skip It.