Once the best smuggler in all of Noo Awlins, Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) has put his life of crime behind him, settled down with wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and now turns an honest buck with his own security company.
Once the best smuggler in
all of Noo Awlins, Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) has put his life of crime
behind him, settled down with wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and now turns an
honest buck with his own security company.
When his doofus brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) screws up a mule run for vicious gangster Tim
Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi. Yup, you read that right, GIOVANNI
motherhumping RIBISI!), dumping the drugs at sea, Chris is forced out of
retirement and back into the game.
Briggs wants his money and Andy’s debt is now Chris’ problem. If he doesn’t find a way to pay Briggs
off, Briggs is going to kill Andy, Chris and his family.
With the help of boyhood best bud Sebastian (Ben Foster), Chris puts together a crew to help him pull off one
last big job – moving millions in counterfeit dollar bills from Panama to New
Orleans. But if something can go
wrong, it will and, with his family’s life in the balance and gangsters and US
Customs scenting blood in the water, Chris finds the only person he can rely on
While it’s something of a cliché, nothing grabs an audience like the reliable
old warhorse plotline of ‘sympathetic crook forced out of retirement to do one
last job.’ As an audience we know
where we are, familiarity breeds anything but contempt. We know the bad guys will be
irredeemably nasty (seriously, Ribisi’s henchman fire a revolver an inch from a
Wahlberg’s pre-pubescent kid’s face just to scare him), we know the good guy
will be cool as ice and tough as nails and we know that the more intricate a
plan is, the more twists, turns and screw-ups the film is going to throw at the
hero. Done well, this kind of
genre film is a joy and Contraband,
a remake of Icelandic thriller Reykjavik-Rotterdam,
is done very well.
There’s no real surprises here, you’ve seen this film a hundred times
but, making his English-language debut, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (who played Chris in the original version) keeps
the action gritty and muscular, ensuring that the film rattles along at such a
pace you never have enough time to pick holes in the plot or realise that Kate
Beckinsale still can’t really act.
As Chris, producer Wahlberg brings his usual, soft-spoken, likable,
dependability to his role of tough guy hero in a tight spot. Able to convey a sense of that rarest
of beasts, the white working class hero, Wahlberg has morphed over the years
from rapping underwear model to the closest thing we have these days to an
old-style Hollywood leading man and while Contraband hardly stretches him, he
gives us another unshowy, almost effortless performance. Foster meanwhile gives us yet another
curiously sympathetic, ambiguous slimeball to add to his growing gallery of
sympathetic yet ambiguous slimeballs.
As wife Kate, Beckinsale’s part is woefully underwritten but hey, who
cares? It just means we have to
put up with less of her ‘acting’ and can sit back, relax and wait for her to
Vaseline herself back into that catsuit for her next Underworld outing.
Landry and Haas are suitably scared-looking as members of Chris’ crew, J.K. Simmons and David O’Hara provide solid support as gruff sea captain and gruff
gangster respectively and Diego Luna
practically heists the film out from under Wahlberg as a psychotic, coked-up
Panamanian who forces Wahlberg and Haas to help on a little job; a stunningly
violent armoured car robbery of a priceless Jackson Pollock which amusingly
then becomes the butt of a running gag throughout the film.
However, in a film that at times strains credulity, the casting of
Giovanni Ribisi as the terrifying white-trash gangster villain is, frankly,
mind-boggling. A capable actor
more suited to playing Boo Radley-type innocent idiots, holy fools and life’s
born losers, here Ribisi is barely intelligible and so sweaty and grimy you can
practically smell him, giving a performance of almost Basingstoke panto
villainy, chewing the scenery like it’s Kobe beef. He never feels like a genuine threat to Wahlberg’s cool,
laconic tough guy. He never feels as scary or dangerous as O’Hara’s
mobster who proves ultimately to be a fairly benign presence in the film.
As preposterous as it is gritty, Contraband
is a solid, satisfying slice of Saturday night entertainment.