11 Feb

Title: Contraband
Year: 2012
Director: Baltasar Kormáku
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski, based on the 2008 Icelandic film written by Arnaldur Indriðason and Óskar Jónasson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons, Diego Luna, Caleb Landry Jones
MPAA Rating: R, violence, pervasive language and brief drug use
Runtime: 109 min
IMDb Rating: 6.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
Metacritic: 52


It’s not as though Contraband is refreshing or unique or anything as far as its plot goes, not to mention that that plot is a bit too busy at times, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t find myself enjoying this one. Not to mention that, as we saw yesterday with the atrocious The Devil Inside, films released in January aren’t always that entertaining, so I thought this one was better than what I was initially expecting. We focus on Mark Wahlberg’s Chris who has left behind his life of crime for the sake of his family’s safety until his brother-in-law, Andy, ruins a drug deal for his boss, Tim Briggs. And you know that movies that open with a retired criminal things won’t stay that way for long, which means that now Chris has to go back to the life of crime has once so good at, to running contraband, in order to settle Andy’s debt.

It really is a fun movie, it’s decidedly a film that’s perfect for these winter months when the quality of its counterparts isn’t that amazing because it actually gets to be absorbing. Mostly because this film knows precisely what it is, it never once thinks it’s an amazing film, it knows it’s just here to entertain, and with the presence of Mr. Wahlberg it does just that. Because Mr. Wahlberg is really good here, granted it’s the sort of role he could play in his sleep, but he’s just convincing as a gritty kind of action-star, and it doesn’t matter how much stuff is going in the plot, how many twists and impossible coincidences there are, it just matters that the star and the director are a great fit to make this one a fun flick to watch.

Because I really like what the director brought to the table here, too, and apparently so does Mr. Wahlberg since he’s been praising Baltasar Kormáku a lot when he did press for this film, and already got him a gig so that they can be reunited in next year’s 2 Guns, another action-crime film which will co-star Denzel Washington. But what I personally really liked about what Mr. Kormáku did with this film (he actually starred in the Icelandic film this one is a remake of) is that he brought a kind of simplicity to the proceedings, an elegant and rather quiet confidence, wanting to just tell their story and get out. Yes, maybe that’s setting their aims too low, but for these kind of films I think that’s smart, because these films will very rarely be downright great, and we see a lot of them trying to be and failing horribly, this one just settled for being decent, and it is. Not to mention that the man, alongside cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (an Oscar-nominee for The Hurt Locker), has a knack for some really cool industrial landscapes, not settling for the usual shots of New Orleans (where the movie starts off) but giving us gritty street-level looks or views from the sky, thus creating a really cool atmosphere, especially in the scenes set in the Port.

Chris, being the semi-legendary smuggler that he is, quickly assembles his team with the help of his friend Sebastian, who’s played by the always remarkably solid Ben Foster, who should really be a bigger name by now. The plan is to make a quick trip to Panama and return with millions in counterfeit bills, but of course the plan starts falling apart, and with drug lords and the police alike stepping on his tail, Chris must turn back to his old skills in order to keep his son and wife, played by the lovely Kate Beckinsale, out of harm’s way. Not to mention that Tim Briggs, the crime-boss Andy owes money to, is played by Giovanni Ribisi, in a way that only Mr. Ribisi could play him, and I mean that both in a good and a bad way; the tattoos, the silly facial hair, the horrible Cajun accent, it’s all just so over-the-top and obnoxious, it doesn’t really fit with the modest scope of the rest of the film.

Go see Contraband, though, I’ve seen it over a month after it was released (I’m just now getting started with the 2012 films) but I really liked it, I thought it had a really nice sense of pacing, some kick-ass action and nice amounts of sheer violence. There are a lot of twists that are piled up and which result in one too many loose ends which is what hurts this movie the most. But still, the cinematography and the score (done by Clinton Shorter, who did District 9) add a lot to the overall feel of the movie and I really appreciated how it all came together in this one. In the end Contraband is just a decent film of the genre, that’s true, but people looking for a good action movie in these first months of the year should cherish this one, not to mention that Mr. Wahlberg, playing a blue-collar who’s forced by circumstances into this reality, does a damn good job at selling his part.

Grade: B-


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