23 March 2012
2012, 109mins, 15
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Writer: Tim Bevan
Cast includes: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, J.K Simmons, Caleb Landry Jones, Ben Foster
UK Release Date: 16th March 2012
Mark Wahlberg’s career as a leading man has been an inconsistent affair. The actor tends to operate better as part of an ensemble, diverse choices such as “Boogie Nights”, “The Departed” and “The Fighter” proving that Wahlberg is at his best with other strong actors alongside him. As a solo headliner Wahlberg has steered himself into some fairly dank creative corners, 2001’s patchy “Planet of the Apes” redux and his hilariously misjudged performance in “The Happening” remaining the nadirs of his time as a screen actor. With “Contraband” Wahlberg is very much the chief thespian presence, but unlike with the aforementioned clunkers he provides a decent performance, bolstering a lacklustre script with his believable acting chops and steely persona. Directed competently by Baltasar Kormakur, “Contraband” is a run of the mill thriller, but one that packs enough kinetic action and human intrigue to muster a passing grade.
A smuggler turned family man, Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) is forced to reconsider a return to the illegal profession after his brother in law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) finds himself on the wrong end of psychotic gangster Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). Andy owes Briggs a major debt, too sizeable for him to fulfil on his own terms, begging for Chris’s help to ensure his future safety. Chris agrees to help smuggle merchandise from Panama in order to even things out, recruiting friends both new and old to get the job done. However with time ticking on, Briggs begins to take a sociopathic interest in Chris’s wife (Kate Beckinsale) and kids, placing the former smuggling ace under a considerable amount of pressure.
Kormakur keeps “Contraband” moving at an appreciatively pacey clip, the film rarely stopping to catch a breath. The screenplay has a variety of deficiencies, but the filmmaker appears aware of this, papering over the thin plotting with capable action direction and an above average degree of care for his protagonists. None of the acting in “Contraband” is revelatory, but Wahlberg fills out the leading role adequately, leaving Ben Foster, J.K Simmons (a scene-stealer as the captain of a cargo barge) and a manic Giovanni Ribisi to endow the picture with a little added colour. It’s a nice range of acting styles, which combined with Kormakur’s appropriately spicy genre direction allows “Contraband” to overshoot its limitations on the page.
The standout sequence occurs about halfway through, the principals forced to take part in an assault on an armoured car. It’s during this portion that Kormakur really leaves a mark, favouring a fairly hyperactive but relatively comprehensible shooting style, the director often electing close-ups to accentuate the frenzied nature of the situation. For an action flick featuring some pretty loopy storytelling devices, “Contraband” is actually shot with a refreshingly realist perspective, the camera happy to get in and dirty amongst the rabble. Whilst he can’t boast quite the same affinity for emotion, Kormakur’s flair is oddly reminiscent of Paul Greengrass, albeit possibly somewhat stiller and less adventurous.
The film ends on silly note, but the ending packs more heart than one might expect, even if much of that is dependent on a dozy Kate Beckinsale. “Contraband” is undemanding but it does boast some sharp directorial moments and represents Mark Wahlberg closer to his best rather than worst. As a DVD rental it’s worth checking out.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012