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Theatrical Review: Contraband

ByDarren Goodhart

Jan 15, 2012

Chris Farraday is a former smuggler who’s gotten out of his past life and now treads the straight and narrow path.  He now has his own private security company and devotes his life to his wife, Kate and their two sons.  Kate’s brother, Andy starts to follow in his brother-in-law’s path.  After a smuggling job goes awry, Andy now finds at the mercy of a ruthless low-level criminal named Briggs.  Chris now finds that he has to get back into his former life to save his brother-in-law and keep his family safe.  Chris and his best friend Sebastian come up with a plan for Chris to join a shipping crew and head to Panama, where he’ll make a big enough score to get Andy off the hook… or so he thinks.

That’s the basic premise to Contraband, the latest movie for star Mark Wahlberg.  Contraband is an adaptation of Icelandic film called Reykjavik-Rotterdam and is directed by the original film’s producer Baltasar Kormákur.  The original has never been released domestically, so I can’t say that I’ve seen it.  If Contraband is any indication though, I certainly would like to.  I had a pretty good time with Contraband though it’s not a perfect film by any means, with two particular points that get in the way of this being something even more special.  But before I get into those, let’s talk about the good stuff.

Baltasar Kormákur does a great job at building intensity through this.  What he shows us of the whole smuggling trade operation certainly seems believable and authentic.  Kormákur does a great job at engaging us in some simultaneous action at different locations and the entire film is very nicely shot.  In addition, this takes a few twists that I thought were surprising and one in particular really stunned me (this is a scene late in the film involving Sebastian and Kate).

Where this falls though is in the overall tone of the film.  As this is building, it just seems like there should be no pretty way out by the end and yet they find a pretty way out at the end.  This wraps the whole thing up in a conventional “happy ending” way (which especially quells the scene that I mentioned involving Sebastian and Kate) which just doesn’t jibe with the rest of the film.  It’s not a dealbreaker at all, but it does keep this from being more than what it is.  There was an opportunity here to turn this more along the lines like some recent hard-boiled films like Faster, The Mechanic and Drive and instead, this opts for the conventional and safe route.  It’s still entertaining, but more as a diversion than anything else.

The cast is terrific.  Mark Wahlberg excels at this sort of hard-edged part and he’s certainly highly watchable here.  Kate Beckinsale plays his wife does a nice job at playing a character who’s less glamourous than she’s normally been seen.  The always terrific Ben Foster plays Sebastian, and as expected from Foster, he puts a lot of nice nuance into this as he’s not only playing a facilitator for Chris, but also playing a recovering drug and alcohol addict.  There’s some nice supporting work from Lukas Haas and J.K. Simmons and a terrific little bit involving Diego Luna as an old Panamanian associate of Chris’.

But there’s another falling point with the cast as well and that’s with two members.  Giovanni Ribisi plays Briggs and Caleb Landry Jones plays Andy.  Ribisi’s Briggs looks like a cartoon character in comparison to the rest of the cast, it’s obvious from the first moment when he speaks.  Caleb Landry Jones’ (who you might remember as playing Banshee in X-Men: First Class) Andy just has “screw-up” written all over him without a clue as to how to do the right thing.  Though this wraps everything up in a happy way, you still get the idea that this character would be bound to screw up yet again if given the opportunity.  There’s nothing to care about with this guy other than the fact that he’s related to Chris and Kate.

But even with these qualms, I still had a pretty good time with Contraband. Though it’s not as special as it could’ve been, it’s still some nice diversionary entertainment, but not something that you have to run right out and see immediately.

Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

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