Arts contraband

Published on January 13th, 2012 | by Greg


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.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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