Movie Review ~ Contraband

The Facts:

Synopsis:  To protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord, a former smuggler heads to Panama to score millions of dollars in counterfeit bills.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi

Director:  Baltasar Kormákur

Rated: R

Running Length: 110 minutes

Random Crew Highlight:  Ager/Dryer – Allsion Bauserman

TMMM Score: (8/10)


When you see as many movies as I do, you get a bit jaded.  There is a feeling you’ve seen it all and it takes some real originality to make you stand up and take notice.  At times, that can be unfair to movies that may not be totally original but go about their business with a fresh take on a tried-and-true plot. 

At first, Contraband looked to me to be a standard crime story of a reformed smuggler lured back into action for the good of the family.  So many movies have come before it with the same plot, characters, and outcome.  Color me surprised that Contraband is so much more than that and it’s elevated by great twists, good performances, strong direction, and the feeling that maybe you don’t know what’s going to happen at the end.

Wahlberg continues to play these male protector roles with real dedication – I know he’s a huge family guy at heart and you can tell he chooses these roles because even those these men may be flawed they still have a devotion that propels them forward.  Beckinsale makes a good impression here as well.  Later this month she returns to her action roots in Underworld: Awakening but in Contraband she switches gears entirely to play The Wife character, resisting the urge to play her soft.  Without a hint of her native Brit accent she drops F-bombs with the big boys and holds her own enough to justify her top billing with Wahlberg.

Supporting turns here are a mixed bag.  I’ve always liked Foster but I grow weary of him playing the same character over and over again.  Before Ryan Gosling came on the scene he was that golden boy for troubled roles (his performance in 3:10 to Yuma still gives me the willies) and he’s never broken free from that.  I feel like he’s the one studios go to if Gosling isn’t available.  Ribisi has his nasty moments but I’m unsure why he chose a Mike Tyson-esque voice to speak with.

This is a movie that hits the ground running so its best you pay attention and stay focused…if anything the movie maybe moves a little too fast.  The entire set-up of the movie happens in the first 10-12 minutes and I did feel I was playing catch-up at times…and that’s not to say a movie can’t have its own pace and ask its audience to keep up with it.  There are complexities to the plot that have value to the viewer and maybe slowing up at the beginning would have made the sluggish middle section gel a bit more.   As mentioned before, the movie takes some turns I didn’t see coming and I honestly wasn’t sure how it was all going to pan out…and by that time I was invested in it and knew how I wanted it to end. 

The film in general had an American look but a decidedly European set-up…which makes sense because it’s a remake of a 2008 Icelandic film, Reykjavik-Rotterdam.  What I found quite interesting was that the star of that film (Baltasar Kormákur) directed the American version.  Kormákur is known more for directing in Iceland and his role in the original brought him great notoriety.  Wahlberg (who also produced) brought him on and it’s a wise choice.  Kormákur has a nice directing style that was a nice mix of Scorcese and Scott without outright imitation.  He’s one to watch!

Check this one out when it’s released on Friday, January 13th.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised as what looks to be an open-and-shut movie is really an entertaining crime film with nice layer of grit and gristle.