‘Contraband’ Deserves To Be Its Title

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The first heist film of the year is in, but I think it’s already time to kick it back out. After watching “Contraband,” I couldn’t help feeling that I had seen the movie before, and it’s not because it is a remake of the 2009 Icelandic film “Reykjavík-Rotterdam.” The film is unoriginal to a painful extent. Whether we are talking about the plot or Mark Wahlberg’s tough guy persona, it’s getting old.

However, the film is not a complete waste of time. It contains decent moments throughout and is an adequately entertaining action thriller. If you are looking for a little excitement and can forgive its derivative transgressions, “Contraband” proves to be a pleasurable experience at the movie theater.

The film plunges right in with Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) throwing drugs off of a boat, a drug run gone bad. Unfortunately for Andy, his boss Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) has zero sympathy. Briggs threatens to harm Andy and his family if he does not receive either the money or the drugs that are owed to him.

In steps Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg), Andy’s brother-in-law who is a former master contraband runner. After Chris fails to work out an agreement with Briggs, he is forced to do the one thing he doesn’t want to do: make a contraband run to pay off the debt.

Chris must act swiftly in order to pay off Briggs before his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and their two children become targets as well. Unbeknownst to him, Briggs is not the only person he must distrust on his turbulent journey to traffic contraband and save his family.

The cast in “Contraband” is admirable. Wahlberg once again straddles the role of the tough guy well and delivers the best performance in the film. Beckinsale believably portrays the distraught mother who must protect her children while their father is off saving the family. A very noteworthy performance comes from Giovanni Ribisi, who depicts Briggs commendably. Ben Foster delivers the second-best performance as Sebastian, Chris’ best friend. His character is essential to the story and the grief and anger he depicts on the screen is authentic. As I make clear here, it is not the acting that plagues “Contraband,” but the haphazard filmmaking.

This brings us back to the film’s unoriginality. Another heist movie? Really? How many more can Hollywood possibly churn out? It feels as if director Baltasar Kormákur took bits and pieces from other action-thrillers and composed “Contraband” out of these.

Kormákur’s biggest mistake is the film’s tempo. The entire movie is rushed from start to finish. This is largely a result of the film trying to do too much. The storyline that Kormákur utilizes could have easily been developed into three separate films. The first act is over and done with within the first 15 minutes, and there is zero development in the characters or the scenes.

We learn that Chris is a former drug runner, but the film leaves out how he became a legitimate member of society. Chris goes to see his father, who is in jail because he was caught for drug running, but we are not given the details of this story.

We need to know these characters’ backgrounds so we can relate to them when they are on their heart-wrenching journey to save their families. One scene jumps to the next without warning or explanation. Who are all these guys whom Chris selects to help him on this run? They seem like old buddies but it is unclear. Kormákur needs to explain these things and he does not. This is the film’s biggest failure. He cannot just tell us this happened and then this happened; he needs to show us.

The music in the film is out of place. Suspenseful music during the heist is adequate, but at other times, the music gives the film a tone that is too lighthearted. Composer Clinton Shorter seems to have employed music he enjoys rather than music which would fit the film.

The lighting throughout the entire film is terrible, and I do not think this is by design. I often found myself squinting and thinking “What is going on? What’s happening?”

The best film technique is the shaky, almost handheld type of shots during the intense moments. Kormákur’s usage of these shots is effective and truly places the viewer in the shoes of the characters.

From a film critic’s point of view, “Contraband” is a movie that has already been made, and made better in the past. If you are looking for some action entertainment and don’t feel like nitpicking over the movie too much, then “Contraband” is the film for you.

Rating: 3 out of 5