Contraband

January 12, 2012

Review by:
Kieran Newton

School:
Fordham University '15

Quote:
"I am Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" -Percy Bysshe Shelley


You know, I kinda wish I could occasionally submit really cheeky, one-sentence reviews, like they do on Pitchfork. Sadly, I’m fairly certain my editor would kill me if I did such a thing, but I’d still like to share what I would have said: “If you want to see a heist film, see Tower Heist.” Honestly. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Contraband, but that’s because there’s not particularly anything of note in this run-of-the-mill, unimpressive, uninteresting movie. While it doesn’t really do anything wrong, it sure as hell doesn’t do a whole lot right, either.

I was just thoroughly bored from the beginning of Contraband until the end. There was no moment that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats because the movie does very little to make the characters sympathetic. The movie starts, as these often do, with a drug run getting busted, forcing young runner Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) to dump the product overboard or else go to prison. Naturally, the potential buyers of the product don’t really like this result, and begin exacting their revenge. Because Andy can’t take it, he turns to his brother-in-law Chris (Mark Wahlberg), an ex-smuggler who now installs home security equipment, to help him do the quintessential “one last job” to save all their skins. As expected, things go disastrously wrong.

I just… I don’t care about these characters. Andy was an idiot. He was running cocaine into the United States. It’s not like he particularly needs the money. As far as I’m concerned, they can do whatever they want to him. Despite this, Jones does a pretty good job of portraying the character—he’s a rising actor, and I’m quite interested in seeing what he does next. Wahlberg is as blocky and unemotive as usual, with some really cringe-worthy lines. I fail to see how he keeps propagating his star persona, to be quite honest. It’s just frustrating. And oh lord, don’t get me started on Kate Beckinsale as Chris’ wife Kate. If there were ever a fine example of truly atrocious, yet completely self-assured and utterly serious acting, this would be it. I want to punch her in the face. Yep. Right in the face.

Although there are some awesome cameo and supporting roles made by J.K. Simmons as the unflinching ship captain, Giovanni Ribisi as the main villain of the film, and Diego Luna as a crazed yet strangely great Panamanian smuggler lord, a film is not made by its supporting roles. These three really do give the film their all, and it shows, but even they can’t compensate for the leads’ terrible performances and the emotionally stilted script by Aaron Guzikowski.

It’s not as though the film is even very technically interesting, either. There’s a reason you’ve probably never heard of Baltasar Kormakur as a director—he’s not exactly talented. There’s no sense of pacing, although that might partially be the fault of the script, as well, and the only time my attention was drawn to the cinematography was when it was particularly bad. This film, in short, is not an artistic piece at all. It’s just drawing people to the theater with the promise of cheap thrills that never really excite and the chance to see… Mark Wahlberg, I guess. Why? I’m not sure. If you have any ideas as to why people might want to see an emotionally unavailable chunk of rock yell for 90 minutes, please, enlighten me.

I think, above all else, my problem with Contraband is that instead of condemning the smuggler lifestyle, the film seems to glorify it. Sure, bad things happen along the way, but literally every main character miraculously pulls through. Through some ingenuity, the protagonists avoid the wrath of both the law and the “evil” smugglers, getting the latter group sent to prison while avoiding it themselves. Not only that, they all become vastly wealthy, apparently without attracting the attention of the IRS at all. At the end of the film, literally nothing bad befalls these men who have brought illegal products into the country. I’m all for resolution, but there’s something to be said for preserving the moral fiber of America.

And the entire thing is done with nary a smile to be seen. It’s just not fun, it’s not clever, and it’s not a good movie. You want a great heist movie, go see Tower Heist—it may not have been perfect, but at least that movie was a fun, entertaining time.

Synopsis:

Mark Wahlberg leads the cast of Contraband, a white-knuckle action-thriller about a man trying to stay out of a world he worked hard to leave behind and the family he’ll do anything to protect. Set in New Orleans, the film explores the cutthroat underground world of international smuggling—full of desperate criminals and corrupt officials, high-stakes and big payoffs—where loyalty rarely exists and death is one wrong turn away.

Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) long ago abandoned his life of crime, but after his brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), botches a drug deal for his ruthless boss, Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), Chris is forced back into doing what he does best—running contraband—to settle Andy’s debt. Chris is a legendary smuggler and quickly assembles a crew with the help of his best friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster), to head to Panama and return with millions in counterfeit bills.

Things quickly fall apart and with only hours to reach the cash, Chris must use his rusty skills to successfully navigate a treacherous criminal network of brutal drug lords, cops and hit men before his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and sons become their target.

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"I am Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" -Percy Bysshe Shelley

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