Old 01-24-2012, 08:57 PM
Baltasar Kormákur's Contraband

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



Contraband (2012)

Baltasar Kormakur’s “Contraband” may seem like the standard, clichéd action movie that we’ve seen several times before, but it’s also one of the instances where it’s done surprisingly well. Here’s a film that could have simply put the story on autopilot for the whole movie and allowed the action scenes to take over, but the story is actually the surprising element. It twists and turns and takes the audience right along for the ride, allowing you to get caught up in wondering what could possibly happen next.

Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) is an ex-smuggler who now sells security systems for a living. When his wife’s (Kate Beckinsale) brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), is forced to dump a smuggled shipment, Chris is forced to step in to correct the situation by taking on another smuggling job so that a crime lord, Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), won’t harm his family. Since Chris refuses to deal with drugs, he decides to smuggle several counterfeit bills from Panama on board a ship run by Captain Camp (J.K. Simmons).

The job will require precise timing, help from some of the crew, and a stealthy way to get the money on board and off again. Meanwhile, Briggs continues to threaten Chris’s family, instigating a second deal that Andy will have to carry out, leading to complications with Chris’s deal. It becomes a race against time for Chris and his crew to pull off their complicated operation in order to ensure the safety of his wife and kids.

This was a pretty good antidote to the fleeting blandness of “Underworld: Awakening,” which attempted to string action sequences together with a thread of a story while trying to call itself a movie. “Contraband” has a few good action sequences, but it also has a story for the audience to get invested in instead of turning off their brain and hoping for the best, a practice I’ve never seen the point of. Why would a movie be worth watching if you had to turn your brain off to enjoy it?

Why the story works here is because of how engaging it becomes. We’ve seen movies like this before, where a heist is supposedly planned out perfectly, but, of course, something has to go wrong, because there usually isn’t much fun in watching a perfectly executed heist. There are obviously rare exceptions to this, “Ocean’s 11” come to mind, but that worked so well because of the convoluted events going on behind the scenes. For the most part, a kink in the chain is needed to shake things up a bit.

Here, we’re with the crew every step of the way as they attempt to carry out their plan. Things go wrong when Andy is forced to take action by carrying out a second deal involving smuggling drugs in order to protect Chris’s kids. This leads to a change in plans for Chris’s crew, who suddenly find themselves having to take on another job in the middle of the one they are already trying to carry out.

It’s these kinks, the twists and turns in the plot, that keep it moving along at a good pace. As the smuggling operation continues, you begin to wonder what will get in the way of completing it next. These twists are provided by Aaron Guzikowski, who wrote the screenplay, based on “Reykjavik-Rotterdam,” a 2008 film from Iceland. Surprisingly, this was their first produced work. Not a bad start for a rookie screenwriter.

It may not exactly be an original story, but when a little effort is put into a film like this, it can be done pretty well. It’s becoming tiresome to see movies where filmmakers think action movies have to be nothing but action scenes strung together. Sometimes all it takes to entertain an audience is an involving scenario with a slick pacing, and that’s something you won’t have to turn your brain off to enjoy. 3/4 stars.
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