DVD Review: Contraband
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Contraband arrives on DVD without much fanfare or expectation of success; but, beneath some wooden performances and a lacklustre script, lies a worthwhile and enjoyable crime thriller...
In recent years Mark Wahlberg has sprung something of a surprise on the cinema going public by showing an increased range as an actor. An excellent performance in The Fighter coupled with fine comic turns in The Other Guys and current box office favourite Ted led many, myself included, to reassess their opinion of him and the standard of his films.
Whilst Contraband continues a trend of decent Wahlberg vehicles, there's unfortunately nothing in the character of Chris Farraday, ex-smuggler turned family man, to give Whalberg the chance to impress. Faraday is a stereotypical crook gone legit. He has a beautiful wife (played by Kate Beckinsale) a father in jail, a shady best friend still in the business and a younger step-brother whose botched attempt to follow him into the smuggling trade leaves the entire family in debt to the Mob. The ex-crim forced back into the game for 'one last job to protect his family' setup may be a little trite but largely it is carried off well. The main problem with the setup is ludicrously unhinged gangster boss Tim Briggs (played by Giovanni Ribisi). Briggs seems to be modelled on the uncontrollable psychotic drug dealer Tuco Salamanca from TV's Breaking Bad, but with none of the terrifying intensity or brutish physical threat. Indeed, Mark Whalberg gives Briggs a sound beating within the first 15 minutes of the film yet still ships off to Panama to repay his step brothers debt by smuggling back counterfeit money. This leaves his family open to the attention of Briggs with only Faraday's does-he-have-something-to-hide friend Danny Raymer (a good turn by Lukas Haas) to protect them.
The first section of the movie drags, with unremarkable stock characters and occasionally clunky exposition. However once the action moves to the cargo ship and onwards to Panama, the pace of the movie picks up. The script still occasionally grates and the crew are similarly two dimensional, but the escalating plot makes the whole endeavour more engaging. There's a particularly enjoyable onboard turn from J.K. Simmons, who is seemingly channeling Foghorn Leghorn, in his role as the bristling ship's captain. Simmons' character also seems to be the first to question why a highly notorious ex-smuggler Faraday has suddenly taken a job on his cargo ship, something I'd been virtually yelling at the TV throughout a previous scene where Whalberg's character was interviewed by customs for his work permit.
By it's midpoint the rhythm and plot of the film have picked up. The clever intricacies of the smuggling and the first of several plot twists means that Contraband becomes more enjoyable as it progresses. Subsequent action sequences in Panama are well staged and the final third of the film zips along in an enjoyable manner. The concluding half hour is the most twist filled and exciting, with plenty of tense moments and a satisfying ending.
Having not seen Reykjavík-Rotterdam, the 2008 Icelandic original version, I can't speak as to the quality of the remake. Perhaps some of Contraband's weaknesses are due to characters and details getting lost in translation, but the returning Baltasar Kormákur who directed the original does a good job.
Beneath a sometimes awkward script and collection of two dimensional characters lies a well structured crime thriller with more than enough enough twits and turns to keep you guessing. Contraband might not have been worth £20 at the local multiplex but it's certainly worth the price of a weekend rental.
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