“You think you’re the only guy with a fucking gun?”
Critics and audiences alike have slammed Contraband for its unoriginality and the so-called ‘convoluted plot’. I personally loved the film. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur, Contraband is based on the Icelandic film, Reykjavík-Rotterdam, which Kormákur starred in. This is a visceral thriller jam-packed with nail biting set pieces. It is understandable to call this just another generic Mark Wahlberg movie, but this is well-above the standard offerings from Marky-Mark. Maybe I’m being a bit generous with my praise. This isn’t a perfect film by any means, but there’s nothing obnoxious about the way it’s been made. Contraband was marketed as a gritty and suspenseful thriller, and on this part, it certainly delivers.
Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg), a former world-class smuggler, has retired to the suburbs to go straight for the sake of his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and kids. When Kate’s younger brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) dumps a load of cocaine overboard during a customs raid, drug boss Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) is not a happy man. He wants compensation, nearly a million dollars worth and the only way to get that sort of money is one last smuggling effort from Chris. Things, however, don’t go to plan when the job comes to action.
Having never seen the original film, I can’t really compare it to anything. Like all films of this kind of style, Contraband is basically about a job gone wrong. From Inception to The Town – this style of storytelling is thrilling to witness. As Chris and his team put their plan into action, things just go wrong at every turn. Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski can’t be targeted for being ‘unoriginal’ as this is the classic set up for heist thrillers. Also, the plot is well structured – I have no idea why people keep saying it’s convoluted. The film is filled with twists and turns, with the risks and urgency of the job constantly raised, keeping the audience engaged. The dialogue captures the context of the film perfectly, and the film also breaks its gritty tone with some humour – and it actually works! I laughed out loud a couple of times through the film.
Flaws are few but I’ll have to name them since this is a review. First off is the character of Kate, who doesn’t have a great deal to do. For most of the film, she is often characterised as a damsel in distress. She’s extremely vulnerable without the aid of Chris, and it’s really up to him to fix her brother’s issue. Still, although vulnerable, her character has a feisty and strong-willed attitude that at least keeps her interesting. She’s a realistic and it’s easy to relate with her, and thus you end up caring for the woman. Also, the relationship between Chris and his father, which is established before the heist begins, never really resonates effectively.
Mark Wahlberg is no stranger to tough guy roles like this, and while he seems to be making an entry into the comedy genre just recently with Ted, there’s no denying he plays these kinds of characters well. He’s a competent as Chris, and carries much of the movie terrifically. Kate Beckinsale looks gorgeous as always, and delivers a convincing performance as Chris’ wife. Ben Foster is undeniably subtle and cool as Chris’ best friend Sebastian, but one who lacks that kind of subtlety is Giovanni Ribisi. He is absolutely over-the-top in the role of Tim Briggs, and while many would say that’s a negative, I quite liked the tone he decided to take. He’s not subtle in any way, but it’s so much fun to watch him perform like he’s on drugs. Some of his line delivery is also mildly amusing.
What shocked me most is that Contraband only had a budget of $25 Million. I’ve seen films with double that for a budget, and they always end up being shockingly bad. Contraband is amazingly well put together. The editing of all the spectacular shots is masterful, and this combination comes into play terrifically in the nail-biting heist sequences, all expertly staged by Kormákur. A highlight of the film is a spectacular shootout in the streets of Panema. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd is no stranger to handheld camerawork, and although I’ve dreaded it films like The Hurt Locker, it comes to effect brilliantly in Contraband. The gritty and dangerous feel of the locations are captured well through the shaky-cam, and Clinton Shorter’s score adds to this.
Overall, Contraband is a brilliantly thrilling film. It’s easy to criticise the plot, but there’s nothing too mindless about it. There are plenty of unexpected plot developments, and every single action sequence is thoroughly entertaining. In a year full of mindless action movies that just have eye candy to offer, it’s refreshing to watch a film that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Yes, I loved Contraband. Don’t hate me for it.