US Marine Mike is in quite the pickle: he’s stepped on a landmine and if he lifts his foot it’ll explode. On top of that, he’s in the middle of a baking desert and is out of water. On top of that, his best friend just stepped on another landmine and exploded into bloody chunks. The good news is that he’s managed to radio command and request a rescue. The bad news is that he’ll have to wait 52 hours for them to get there. Eek.
Mine dramatizes this torturous waiting game, and the vast majority of the film is spent watching Mike, sweatily played by an increasingly gross-looking Armie Hammer, standing still (and sometimes kneeling) in the middle of a featureless desert as he struggles to stay sane and stay alive.
Written and directed by Italian duo Fabio Guaglione and Fabio Resinaro, Mine revels in its self-imposed limitations – taking inspiration from similarly enforced chamber pieces like 127 Hours, Buried and Phone Booth (as well as sounding somewhat similar to upcoming John Cena movie The Wall). To the director’s credit, he pulls every cinematic trick imaginable to keep the audience engaged, with Mike suffering all manner of flashbacks and hallucinations that fill out his background and mental state.
He’s also periodically visited by a mysterious local (Clint Dyer). Mike doesn’t exactly make a great first impression by pointing a gun at him and screaming orders, but the man eventually assists. Aside from providing a refill of life-giving water, he also gives Mike some unwanted motivational life coaching, explaining that all he needs to do to escape his situation is to step off the mine and live with the consequences.
It soon becomes apparent that Mike’s situation is a none-too-subtle metaphor for US intervention in the Middle East. The exact location and year this is taking place isn’t specified, though it’s clearly either Iraq or Afghanistan sometime over the last ten years or so. Mike, the physical model of the all-American soldier, finds himself trapped in a situation largely of his own making. His paradox of dying if he moves and dying if he stays put mirrors the US occupation forces’ dilemma that while they’re responsible for much of the misery around them, their departure would throw gas on the fire.
It’s a decent enough bit of cinematic layering, but unfortunately, the film gradually comes apart as it shifts to questioning why Mike chose to become a soldier. He’s interrogated at length by the mysterious man, who drills him on his reasoning for joining the military, travelling halfway around the world and shooting at people. The film answers this with soft-focus flashbacks to Mike’s girlfriend Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), in which he vows to be her “knight.” Jenny is a personality-free generic placeholder girlfriend, which leaves what should be the emotional core of the film inert.
While it’s impressive that Mine manages to get so much out of a guy standing still in the middle of nowhere for a couple of days, it eventually runs out of juice and tests the audience’s patience. The mysterious visitor, aside from being a particularly egregious example of a “magical negro,” ends up frustrating the audience almost as much as he does the protagonist with his woolly, vaguely zen philosophizing.
Eventually (and disappointingly), the bold narrative setup and promising central metaphor collapse into clichéd interfamilial drama. A drug-induced nightmare trip introduces Mike’s abusive alcoholic father – who appears to have wandered straight out of the big book of stereotypes – and all too soon the film becomes less about the problem of how to get off a mine and more about how Mike can conquer his personal demons. Sadly, his personal demons are less than enthralling.
It’s a tricky one to recommend – if the film was 20 minutes shorter and a little more focused on the gruelling survival story than hackneyed flashbacks it’d be much more powerful. As it is though, there’s a point when you begin wishing that the damn mine would explode already, which would at least curtail the drippy self-help waffling that drags Mine into boredom territory.
The situation at the heart of Mine - what to do if you're stuck standing on a live landmine - is fascinating to imagine. But sadly, the film eventually devolves into cliched flashbacks and quickly loses momentum.