High-concept movies present a particular challenge to the filmmaker: Since establishing the premise typically eats up the first 30 minutes of a story, screenwriters and directors must figure out a way to expand on their concept without losing audience interest. Co-written and co-directed by Italian filmmakers Fabio Guaglione and Fabio Resinaro, the wartime psychological thriller “Mine” is a classic example of a high-concept film that painstakingly sets up its unusual premise, only to squander it.
Mike (Armie Hammer) and Tom (Tom Cullen) are Marines in an unspecified North African country. When their scouting/sniper mission goes awry after Mike’s hesitation to pull the trigger inadvertently gives away their position to the enemy, the two men must walk across the desert toward an improvised extraction point — one that lies beyond a sign warning of a minefield. Both of the men step on mines, however, and after Tom dies, Mike quickly realizes that he is stuck, unable to move his left foot from the unexploded device. With 52 hours until the proverbial cavalry arrives, and with limited supplies, he must come up with a way to survive and get help. Over the course of the narrative, Mike starts to lose his resolve — and his wits.
The protracted opening act of “Mine” is a tedious wait to get to the point at which Mike is left alone. The character of Tom is one we’ve seen in countless war films. He’s the optimistic motormouth who will not shut up about his family back home, while Mike is the more tortured, taciturn type.
Our interest in “Mine” is directly proportional to Mike’s sense of determination. In the first hours of his ordeal, he must contend with indifferent locals, enemy fire and even a sandstorm. This premise would be wildly implausible without Hammer, who makes for a compelling hero as he underplays Mike’s escalating sense of terror. For a while, anyway, “Mine” becomes a story about how military training can help prolong one’s survival, even when death seems certain.
Guaglione and Resinaro realize that lengthy exposure to the desert means that Mike’s grasp on reality will grow more tenuous, so “Mine” ends with many hallucinations and flashbacks. All of them are heavy-handed, with special effects re-creating mirages that only Mike can see. Like countless other movie warriors, Mike comes from a broken home, and struggles to communicate with his girlfriend. In one of these hallucinations, Mike’s abusive father (Geoff Bell) appears to insult him, suggesting a metaphor for the test of will that Mike is undergoing.
But his backstory offers virtually no additional intrigue or insight into his character, and “Mine” starts to lose momentum quickly.
“Mine” ends with a grim, halfhearted joke it does not earn. Guaglione and Resinaro strive to find meaning in Mike’s struggle, even when the script and its conclusion all point to a message that is more senseless, even bleak. Films such as “Gravity” and “127 Hours” successfully used the trope of the hero, isolated in an extraordinary circumstance, as a means for hard-earned character development. “Mine” wants to continue in that tradition, but it lacks the depth — let alone the curiosity — to achieve it.
Unrated. Opens at the AMC Potomac Mills 18. Also available on demand. Contains strong language, violence and disturbing imagery. 107 minutes.