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Contraband review


A former life of crime returns to haunt reformed crook Mark Wahlberg...

Contraband (2012)

Remakes are a favourite source of inspiration for Hollywood films. Sometimes they work - as with The Italian Job - and sometimes they don’t - as with  Sylvester Stallone’s defiling of Get Carter. Mark Wahlberg’s new film, Contraband is a big-budget remake of the 2008 Icelandic thriller, Reykjavik-Rotterdam. However, is it a hit or a miss?

In the remake, Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday who, after a successful career as the Harry Houdini of the smuggling game, is now on the straight and narrow. Having traded in a life of crime for his wife (Kate Beckinsale), kid, and a small security business, life is generally rosy.

However, all this comes crashing down when Kate’s young brother Andy becomes embroiled in a botched drug-smuggling run. In a bid to evade the police, Andy throws several kilos of cocaine overboard, resulting in a very angry gang boss and, presumably, some very chatty fish. Drug lord Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) gives Andy an ultimatum: pay or die.

Stepping in to help, as all good ex-smugglers turned brothers-in-law would, Chris embarks on one last job to pay off the gang boss and keep Andy alive. Teaming up with his best friend and former partner-in-crime, Sebastian (Ben Foster), he hatches a plan to smuggle several million counterfeit US dollars in on a container ship from Panama.

Naturally this isn’t as straightforward as it sounds, due to the logistics of transporting a pallet-load of $100 bills discreetly and Chris’s bewildering decision to take his disastrous brother-in-law along with him. This is made all the more difficult by the ship’s captain (J.K. Simmons) who, having dealt with him in the past, is fairly suspicious about Chris’s true motives for setting sail with him.

While Chris and Andy get the counterfeit cash from the Panamanian gangsters via gunpoint negotiations and the hijacking of an armoured van, Kate and child are back in New Orleans under constant threat from the unhinged Briggs...

If the set-up of a reformed crook lured back into the criminal underworld for “one last job” sounds familiar, that’s because it is. While this would have been frustrating in a typical heist flick, the use of smuggling as the film’s vehicle refreshes this action movie staple.

The choice of the original film’s star, Baltasar Kormakur, as director is an interesting move. Fortunately, it also seems to have been an astute one. Kormakur’s direction frequently gives a real sense of the murky, adrenalin-fuelled world of smuggling. In addition, Contraband is an impressive-looking movie. The sequence that hops between shots of the ship navigating the Panama Canal and the gloom below deck is particularly smart.

As the film goes on, it gets progressively darker. There are several unlikely plot twists that add little to the story and the film tends to lurch around as a result. In addition, the ending is a little too cute and wholly unnecessary. However, the action sequences hit the mark and the gloomy scenes on the ship have bags of character.

Wahlberg turns in a solid performance, displaying the likeable, muscular swagger seen in The Italian Job. He conveys all the excitement of someone returning to an illicit world they have missed, like an ex-smoker’s first cigarette after years of abstinence. This apart, the role could hardly be described as challenging for him.

Similarly unchallenged is Kate Beckinsale as Faraday’s gorgeous wife. Her time on screen is all too brief, and mainly spent being terrorised by Briggs. However, her interactions with the increasingly troubled Sebastian give her a better chance to explore the character.

Ribisi’s portrayal of unhinged drug lord Briggs is a difficult one. At its best, it is menacingly psychotic; at its worst it borders on the ridiculous. Ribisi’s preposterous affected voice and overall look are more redolent of a generic minor Batman villain than a ruthless gangster. This is a shame because a less laboured, grittier performance would have given the character much more credibility. J.K. Simmons’ captain is similarly over-the-top.

In spite of its faults, Contraband is a reasonably well-executed and enjoyable action thriller. Decent performances from Wahlberg and Foster combined with fast-paced action and the impressive shots of the ship set it apart from films whose plots tread similar ground. The smuggling elements give insight into an area that we have not seen much of in other films. However, if Contraband ends up being a smash, perhaps we will yet.

3 stars

Contraband goes on release in the UK today


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