Contraband Review

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  • Contraband film still

Score

For all its initial pace and posturing, this Mark Wahlberg bruiser quickly loses momentum.

After flexing his dramatic fibres in David O Russell’s The Fighter, Mark Wahlberg is back bustin' chops on the mean streets of New Orleans as born-again smuggling demigod Chris Farraday. He takes on One Last Job to settle his witless brother-in-law’s debt to a weasely local crim (Giovanni Ribisi).

Jacking in his steady security alarm business, Chris rallies his old crew and heads to Panama to pull off the ultimate score, leaving his wife (Kate Beckinsale) under the watchful (read: lustful) eye of bezzie mate Sebastian (Ben Foster).

A fluid, deliciously lean opening act sets Contraband firmly in the Michael Mann mould. Yet for all its initial pace and posturing, Baltasar Kormákur’s film quickly loses momentum before finally and rather tamely nose-diving into a slurry of heist flick cliché. But not before newbie screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski has time to throw in more overbaked twists than a bag of M Night Shyamalan-branded pretzels – all of which makes for muddled and wholly fruitless viewing.

Bizarrely, 2008’s Reykjavík-Rotterdam, the little-seen Icelandic thriller from which Contraband was adapted, starred Kormákur himself in the lead. Despite this familiarity, he desperately falters in the role of director. His finest exploits behind the lens – 101 Reykjavík and Jar City – relied on the trusty cinematic motif of the fractured family to cement the audience’s emotional investment.

Here, needlessly convoluted subplots and crummy supporting characters suffocate the Farraday dynamic. Beckinsale’s one-dimensional MO is to look hot and feign fear, while the most we glimpse of their two kids is in the baddie’s crosshairs.

And Wahlberg? He barely breaks a sweat and yet still manages to turn in his best performance since The Departed. A silver lining, then, for those already looking ahead to 2013 and the testosterone triple-threat of Broken City, 2 Guns and Blood Ties.

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