Contraband (2012)

26 Mar


Icelandic superstar Baltasar Kormakur takes up the directorial reins on Contraband, a Hollywood remake of 2008’s Reykjavik-Rotterdam in which Kormakur played the lead role. Transporting the action to New Orleans and Panama, Kormakur’s retelling centres on smuggler gone straight Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg), who must take on one last job after his brother-in-law upsets some rather unpleasant characters. On the face of it, we’re in perfunctory thriller territory, but Kormakur’s raw directorial style, a wry screenplay and a plethora of unseemly characters ensure that Contraband duly delivers.

Farraday’s smuggling days are seemingly behind him. He’s settled down with his beautiful wife Kate (standard girl next door Kate Beckinsale) and two young sons, running his own security company. However, a gripping prologue throws a veritable spanner into the works as it is revealed that Kate’s kid brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) has followed Farraday’s lead into the murky world of smuggling. Not only that, but his latest sojourn has landed him in a world of pain and debt after dumping the payload in the ocean.

Cue mob boss Briggs (a snarling and neurotic Giovanni Ribisi), out-of-pocket, but determined that all debts are paid and all scores are settled. With surprisingly little objection from Kate, Farraday finds himself once again firmly ensconced in the world he thought he had left behind as he hatches a plan to save Andy’s behind.

As Farraday sets sail for Panama on a promise of enough counterfeit dough to clear the debt, he’s apparently onto a sure thing, although somewhat predictably things don’t play out quite as expected. Regardless, Farraday clearly revels in the excitement of being back with his old gang and it’s during these tense, action led scenes that Wahlberg really shines, undoubtedly assisted by Aaron Guzikowski’s pithy, witty screenplay, which gather pace all the time.

Contraband 1

The first act is a disappointingly slow burner and effectively Kormakur utilises it to explore character back stories and set up a more bombastic, frenetic payoff. It’s here that his involved, naturalistic direction, constantly blurring in and out of focus, is most effective, lending the film a gritty feel, particularly during the Panama segment which boasts a shootout that rivals Heat in its intensity.

As Farraday contends with the Panamanian mafia, led by a superbly unhinged Diego Luna, and J.K. Simmons’ suitably abrasive Captain Camp, back home in New Orleans, Briggs’ ups the ante on Kate and family, whom best mate Sebastian (a brilliantly understated Ben Foster) seemingly keeps at arm’s length. With the tension irrevocably upped, there is still time for several curve balls, reveals and moments of happenstance that set up a delectable, albeit incredibly tidy and convenient, denouement.

Contraband may be wholly lacking in originality, yet it still manages to be a perfectly entertaining romp. One suspects that the particularly strong cast, save for perhaps Beckinsale, whose Kate is far too amenable and clean-cut, carries the film. Wahlberg is in his element, whilst Ribisi and Foster provide two credible and equally disconcerting supporting turns as Briggs and Sebastian. Kormakur would do well to focus on action in future, as the final act is considerably stronger than the first, despite the almost risible and fortuitous conclusion.

A tighter directorial focus and a less convoluted narrative may have elevated Contraband into superior thriller territory, but as it is it’s merely an enjoyable diversion which will probably be best remembered for Wahlberg’s utterly filthy retort to Captain Camp concerning Panamanian dog shit and his wife. It’s a real winner.

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