Synopsis: To protect his brother-in-law from drug lord Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), former smuggler Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) heads to Panama to score millions of dollars in counterfeit bills.
Mark Wahlberg has carved an impressive career by conveying every emotion on the scale through the medium of frowning or looking confused. Regardless of his role or emotional state he always looks pissed off or like he is trying to divide 1,254,110,121,454 by 421,256,423,121 (it’s 2.977 if you’re wondering). Occasionally he looks confused and then pissed off, probably because he is annoyed at whatever is causing him such consternation. Even in comedies like Ted and The Other Guys he does funny with a frown. When he walked out of The Funky Bunch and into Hollywood few people thought he was more than another pretty wannabe actor. Yet, through it all, he has managed to set himself out as a proper movie star with some pretty good acting chops.
In Contraband he manages to frown his way across two countries and one ocean by way of a large freight ship. It’s a 3,000 mile round-frown. It’s also a pretty entertaining, if not out of the ordinary action-heist-thriller.
Contraband is a US remake of an Icelandic (no Bjork) thriller called Reykjavik-Rotterdam. US remakes of European and Asian movies are ten a penny. It’s not often that those involved in the original are involved in the remake. Usually because once you’ve told a story once it’s difficult to find a new and interesting way of telling that story again. Occasionally the director of the original language version will remake an English language version. But it’s rare. What’s rarer still, in fact I can’t think of another time it has happened, that the actor playing the lead role in the original comes on to direct the English language remake.
At the time of the movie being released I remember Wahlberg saying how it was interesting working with Kormaku because he was able to discuss how they would approach the character differently and come up with new ideas. It’s difficult to see where the character nuances are in what is essentially a by-the-numbers, albeit entertaining, action thriller. Wahlberg plays one of the World’s greatest smugglers who has now gone legit. His Brother-In-Law puts a spanner in the works though by being a giant douche-nozzle, failing to smuggle in some drugs and getting indebted to some bad dudes, led by Giovanni Ribisi. The only way to stop his family being killed for the debt? Doing one last job and smuggling in a whole shit load of counterfeit cash. It can essentially be summed up in one very familiar sentence: he thought he was out of the game but he had to come back for one last job to save his family. Yeah, it’s that kind of action movie.
At the end of the day though it’s not necessarily how original the story is but how you find ways to make it entertaining. Contraband does it by virtue of having three charismatic leads in Wahlberg, Foster and Ribisi and a couple of interesting settings for it’s action pieces.
Panama acts as the backdrop to the majority of the non-nautical action set pieces. The interesting thing about setting a prolonged gun fight between heavily armed crooks and even more heavily armed cops in Panama as opposed to [enter generic American city here] is it doesn’t feel unrealistic. You can imagine that kind of shoot first ask questions later shit happening in Central America more than North America.
Wahlberg does his best as Johnny Action-Hero but there is limited characterisation outside of waving a gun, doing some crazy shit and getting the old gang back together. Ben Foster is the most developed of all the characters and displays genuine conflict in a role often marginalised as his best friend with a dark secret. Giovanni Ribisi has the most fun though chewing up scenery like it’s big tasty pieces of cakey goodness. He brings out his best Ribisi man-child voice and ramps up the crazy to 150%.
The major issue with it though is it never really builds a sense of tension. You never doubt everything is probably going to turn out ok, even when things seem like they’re getting ropey. Kate Beckinsale also does a great impression of a dining room cabinet with a typically wooden performance.
Conclusion: Entertaining if ultimately forgettable action drama. Would be tempted to see the original Icelandic version to see if it delivers anything more interesting.
Taglines: What would you hide to protect your family?
Director: Baltasar Kormaku – Icelandic actor (so I am reliably informed by the internet. Thank you IMDB). This was his first US movie
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski – First credited work. Has a story in the pipeline called Prisoners which sounds pretty ordinary but has an awesome cast including Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Maria Bello.
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Caleb Landry Jones, J.K. Simmons, Lukas Haas
- Editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir also edited the original Reykjavik-Rotterdam. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson had a role in both films, too.
On DVD, BluRay and streaming on BlinkBox