Mark Wahlberg plays an ex-champion smuggler gone straight who is forced back in the ‘running’ business when his brother-in-law gets in trouble over a bungled drug run. With threats against his family’s lives, Marky-Mark organises an epic smuggle of counterfeit money from South America to settle the debt.
It always a risk making a film where your heroes are scummy criminals. Contraband is no different. Our leading man Chris (Wahlberg) has a father in jail, and his greasy friends all have a hand in dodgy smuggling jobs. They hang out in dingy bars in dirty streets and use fruity language and violence in plain view of their children – It calls for some serious cringe action.
But we are encouraged to love Chris who has given up his criminal life style to be a solid father and husband, and despite his not-so-legal past, the scriptwriters are quick to make clear our hero has never run drugs, thus making us think he is a decent man that perhaps we can invest our emotions in after all….
A remake of the award-winning Icelandic film Reykjavik-Rotterdam (2008), Contraband stays close to it’s roots with the Director, Baltasar Kormakur, having Produced and Starred in the original.
The film is slow to start and we find ourselves struggling to feel support for Chris as he goes back into business to save his young, dumb brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones). Andy is such an idiot you can’t help but feel he deserves to be ‘done in’ thus the beginning is majorly flawed.
The film – much like the sea container the story is set on – chugs along with the first half passing with little event.
The setting makes for mostly ugly, gritty cinematography with the dark ship offering little in terms of visuals.
The photography is purposefully unsettled with the camera constantly moving and zooming in and out, trying to add a little momentum to what are ultimately stagnant scenes. It doesn’t quite succeed and is often distracting.
But the second half picks up, managing a few tense moments and some good (if short) action scenes.
The acting is solid throughout with a strong supporting cast (Kate Beckinsale as the pretty wife, Ben Foster as the conflicted friend, Giovanni Ribisi as the cracked, vengeful baddie and J.K Simmons as the ever-watchful Captain). Yet despite a strong cast, this film fails at doing anything out of the ordinary. The script is stock-standard, the cinematography: Stock-standard. The characters? Stock-standard. You get the picture: this film doesn’t do anything special.
There are one or two moments of brilliance in the soundtrack, but these are short-lived.
Now do not misunderstand me – not every film needs to push the medium. There is certainly a place for good old fashioned, traditional entertainment. Yet Contraband doesn’t quite succeed at exciting.
The middle presents some great ‘things going from bad to worse’ moments, the end is clever and amusing – the film-making isn’t bad by any means…. however it feels like this movie is missing something.
Though enjoyable enough, Contraband doesn’t quite get you going. It’s not boring, but it’s not riveting. It’s not terrible, but it ain’t brilliant. It fills two hours of your life and though you certainly won’t be wishing you could have those two hours back, you might not be really glad you gave them away either.
The reality is, the most thrilling thing about this film is the Directors name: ‘Baltasar!’ I mean come on: that is one exciting name!
Rate 5 out of 10