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June 24, 2012

Contraband

by Franz Patrick


Contraband (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) was supposed to deliver ten pounds of cocaine to Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), a sleazy drug addict who was more connected than he seemed, but the young man threw the package overboard because U.S. Customs were closing in. While Andy and his friend were sent to the hospital due to the failed delivery, someone had to pay Tim hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of drugs. Kate (Kate Beckinsale), Andy’s sister, was married to Chris (Mark Wahlberg), who happened to be involved in the smuggling business before he decided to live a straight life with his wife and two sons. Feeling that his family would never be safe as long as the debt remained unpaid, he volunteered for one last job. “Contraband,” based on the screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski, was most enjoyable when we were given a chance to watch Chris attempt to wiggle out of increasingly difficult situations, but the picture’s pace came to an uncomfortable halt every time the focus was not on the man desperate to keep his family safe. Specifically, when Kate and Chris spoke on the phone to check in on each other’s safety and say the requisite “I love yous,” nothing much was left for the imagination. It became so repetitive that during the phone conversations, I began to think of alternatives. It didn’t help that Kate was a typical damsel-in-distress which made the character boring. Perhaps the film would have been far more involving if Chris and the audience had no idea of the specific happenings at home. Maybe if Chris were to receive a text message, a picture message, or a voicemail once in a while, it would’ve been acceptable. In my experience, while out at sea, getting a proper signal could be a hassle. Upon his inevitable return, the people who he thought could be trusted–who may or may not turn out otherwise–would come as a genuine surprise for him and for us. I liked the action sequences because the protagonist was more complicated than a man who could handle a gun. While he was more than capable of wielding such a dangerous weapon, we instead saw him using his hands a lot. For instance, altering the ship’s machinery while on the way to Panama, using a vacuum to keep the ship’s captain (J.K. Simmons) off his back, and carrying important objects from one place to another before time ran out and an official saw what was really going on. Wahlberg was interesting in the role not because he was given complex material to wrestle with but because he injected humanity into Chris. I was amused that he used different voices when talking to his wife and children, his friends, his enemies, and those who were downright being stupid. The script could’ve used more of that playfulness. There was one very good exchange where Andy told Chris that he should stop pretending that he didn’t enjoy being back to smuggling. It was surprising that Chris was so open to admit that it held a certain level of excitement for him. The admission was important because when things got tough, the way in which the protagonist solved problems was believable; we felt that he really did have experience in something like this before, that deep down perhaps he was even enjoying the process. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur, “Contraband,” a remake of Óskar Jónasson’s “Reykjavik-Rotterdams,” showed potential that it might have worked as an action-thriller with a convincing character arc. Unfortunately, much of the exploration had to be watered down for easy denouements, like how far people were willing to go for drugs and money and their impending comeuppance.

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