Movie Review: “Contraband”

Written by Alicia Kaiser January 18, 2012

The Italian Job but with more frightening thugs and less awesome heisting.

Marky Mark, why are you still playing at this “bad guy but good guy” routine? You’ve done it so many times before!

Contraband is your classic story of an ex-bad-guy trying to live the crime-free life when he is pulled in for one last big job. Really? Never heard that one before. Though not the worst movie to come out recently, Contraband offers nothing new to be experienced – the plot is grossly unoriginal and unfortunately quite slow moving. There is something entertaining, however, about the unnecessarily convoluted and problematic plot, as if to compensate for the lack of thriller action the viewer is thrown into a whirlwind of separate issues all loosely tied around Wahlberg’s smuggling. To my greatest displeasure, Contraband sets the viewer up to expect so much hardcore action and then ceaselessly, and almost impressively, fails to deliver.

Mark Wahlberg is Chris Farraday an ex-contraband smuggler on the mend for a clean life with his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and their two young children. Everything seems to be going fine as Farraday starts his own business as a home security specialist until he is pulled back into the game with ferocity when his delinquent brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) puts himself in a bad place with a local smuggling mobster Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). And by mobster I do not just mean your classic drone with a gun – no – I mean a horrifying sociopathic crazy-man with a face like poison.

Chris is forced back into running contraband in order to settle Andy’s debt, because apparently, debts are inherited to the whole family in the criminal world? Chris, with the help of his old smuggling buddy (not snuggling buddy) Sebastian (Ben Foster), assembles a crew fit for the job and they settle for one run to Panama on an unsuspecting cargo freighter, hoping to return with millions in counterfeit bills. Of course, plans are thwarted and complicated as things go bad and then worse and then super-worse, both in Panama and back home in New Orleans as Briggs leers aggressively around Farraday’s family.

Based on the 2008 Icelandic thriller Reykjavík-Rotterdam, whose star, Baltasar Kormákur, directs this American version, Contraband seems to fall short of the promised action-flick. Kormákur seems overly preoccupied with establishing dark moods – telling us that this is going to be a gritty film – and introducing a confusing amount of plot points and disruptions that the film never seems to deliver anything grandiose or even high stress. Wahlberg, for one, doesn’t even seem to be that into it. His character is criminally tired and family-oriented which normally are both great values, but when placed in the context of the film, his character becomes strangely emasculated – as if being legit is the worst.

 Furthermore, there are several instances where the viewer is set up to expect something insane to happen that is either never delivered or somewhat censored.  I thought this movie was rated 18A? Briggs, for instance, looks and sounds terrifying, but his actions are peculiarly impotent as if all he is capable of doing is looking mean. Also, there is one character introduced in Panama, Gonzalo (Diego Luna), who apparently is a criminal lunatic infamous for decapitating his enemies and feeding the bodies to literal wolves, but when he finally graces the screen he doesn’t do a damn frightening thing as far as the viewer is concerned.

The entertainment in the film, I found, derived mainly from Farraday’s quick thinking and problem solving when faced with an almost insurmountable list of obstacles inhibiting him from finishing his run. He was like the Sherlock Holmes of thugs, and a few times, his snarky Mark attitude that the world so loves had a chance to shine through. Mostly, however, I just felt let down. Where are my over-the-top gun fights? Where is my ridiculous car chase scene and gratuitous violence? There wasn’t even the colourful gang of misfits all mashed together to make a dream con-team. None of it was there!

I suppose, in transgressing the role of conventional action-flick, Contraband is making a bold statement – as it tries to bring a reality into the increasingly unrealistic genre. I can definitely give the film credit for trying to bring new life to a washed up theme that it presupposes, but, in the end, it does so much to the flourishing disappointment of the audience. Overall, Contraband was a little bit counterfeit.

My Rating: 4/10


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About Alicia Kaiser

Alicia Kaiser

Alicia Kaiser: University student; Movie enthusiast; Nerd. She enjoys reading, writing, partaking in shenanigans and making sweet crafts. Currently, she is simultaneously employed by and a student at the University of Victoria. While she moseys towards her degree with Major in English Literature and a Minor in Professional Writing, she can be found in UVic Marketing doing cool, grown-up stuff. For Alicia, watching movies is comparable to (if not more important than), eating, sleeping and physical activity. Her reviews are full of passion, pizzazz, analysis, and introspection. Enjoy.

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