Contraband– Movie Review
Mark Wahlberg‘s latest slugfest had all the markings of action movie mediocrity: shaky camera, grey color tones everywhere, a January release date, and, well, Mark Wahlberg. But Contraband overcomes its humble genre roots to provide a few genuine surprises and a fast-paced adventure.
To be fair, this is still one the Wahlbergiest of movies. It’s revenge, heist, save-the-family, gangster, drug, international caper, conspiracy, going legit, and one-last-job movies all rolled in to one. Some of the dialogue (Wahlberg’s screechy cry “You think you’re the only guy with a gun?”) is tailor-made to join the pantheon of Wahlberg classics like, “Some people wanna kill you, I just wanna talk!” and “Say high to your mother for me, alright?” And despite taking place in New Orleans, Wahlberg’s Chris Farrady and family still inexplicably seem to hail from Bahston.
In the film, Chris Farrady is a legendary smuggler who has gone legit for his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and two sons. But when his wife’s brother screws up a drug smuggle and ends up in debt to a crazy local gang leader (Giovanni Ribisi), Farrady must go to Panama for one last big score to save everything he loves.
Several reviewers have criticized the plot as “convoluted,” but I thought the layer-upon-layer of plans and scams was a great reflection of how things go wrong in life. Instead of perfectly pulling off a glossy heist, Farrady must constantly adapt to the screw-ups and bad luck around him. And if that happens to involve (SPOILER ALERT) doing an unlikely favor for a Panamanian crime boss, well then, you gotta do whatcha gotta do.
The film also earns points for its procedural-style approach to smuggling, a less-cliched option for crime movies. While smuggling is probably much more involved than portrayed here, the screenwriters did seem to have a suspicious working knowledge of the craft, which lends an entertaining authenticity to the action.
Wahlberg pulls of Farraday’s nice-tough-guy just as well as he has in countless other movies, but maybe with an extra scene or two of convincing fear and vulnerability. He is surrounded by strong performances in roles that usually get short shrift in similar action pics, including Diego Luna‘s insecure gang leader, David O’Hara as a sympathetic mob boss, and J.K. Simmons‘ blustery corrupt captain. Ribisi is maniacally wheedling and over-the-top in the kind of performance that is either loved or hated, and Ben Foster is great and understated as always.
Have you seen the movie? What did you think?