Published on January 13th, 2012 | by Greg0
Contraband: Worth The Ride
The premise of the movie is simple: onetime star smuggler Chris Farraday’s (Mark Wahlberg) bumbling son-in-law Andy has to dump $700,000 of heroin when customs raids his ship, and now Chris and his family are on the hook for the money. Like one might expect, Chris gets a chance to do one last run to save the lives of everyone he holds dear. Next thing you know, he’s reunited with his old gang on a container ship to Panama, with a plan to smuggle palletloads of counterfeit “supernotes” and pay off his debt.
I loved the scenes on the ship- it’s a novel setting for a thriller, and I half-expected Contraband (released widely in the USA today, January 13th) to turn into an an innovative portrait of a smuggler’s life as weeks of seaborne monotony punctuated by occasional moments of unbearable tension. The shooting does a great job of capturing the immense scale of the freighter, the camaraderie of the crew, and the cat-and-mouse game with the captain. It becomes more of a conventional action thriller once the gang lands in Panama, but the ship and the logistical constraints of smuggling a vanful of a money through two countries’ customs and a wary captain keep the tension high.
Baltasar Kormákur directs this adaptation of the Icelandic “Reykjavik-Rotterdam,” and captures the foggy New Orleans port well. The customs raids and dockside loading operations seem especially realistic, and the difference in atmosphere between dark, urban New Orleans and sunny, anything-goes Panama is stark. He’s no Michael Bay- action sequences are few and relatively mild, and Farraday’s skulking around the ship and negotiating constantly changing alliances are more engaging than the occasional shootout.
Wahlberg fills his role just fine, but his blue collar action hero doesn’t demand much high-powered acting. The supporting actors are far more interesting- Giovanni Ribisi plays Tim Briggs, an utterly convincing crazed drug dealer, and Ben Foster makes an impact as the recovering alcoholic best friend. Kate Beckinsale puts on a great American accent, but given her experience as a strong female lead (Underworld, Van Helsing), it’s sad to see her so powerless and interchangeable. She’s the only woman with lines in the whole movie, and she spends most of it getting chased, intimidated, and victimized by Briggs.
If I had to nitpick, I’d say Contraband has a bit of an identity crisis- it swings back and forth between gritty and polite, twisting and predictable, heart-wrenching and happy-go-lucky. It’s thrilling and fun the whole way through, but the moments of levity in the middle of a serious, high-stakes plotline (and vice-versa) will probably turn some off. Much of its cast comes from comedy, so it’s not surprising that they have trouble walking the line between serious and light-hearted.
That said, Kormakur delivers a solid, gripping action drama. There’s not a dull moment in its two-hour run, but don’t spend too much time thinking about it afterward- this isn’t high cinema, and the plot won’t stand up to serious scrutiny (or a second viewing, once you know its twists). Go expecting a slick, top-tier thrill ride with heart, and it will be well worth your ten bucks.