Film Review: ‘Contraband’


Mark Wahlberg returns to UK screens this week in Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur’s US box office-topping action thriller Contraband (2012) (a loose remake of 2008 film Reykjavík-Rotterdam), which also stars British actress Kate Beckinsale – star of the forthcoming 2012 Total Recall remake – and journeyman Ben Foster.

Contraband tells the story of ex-smuggler Chris Farraday (Wahlberg), who must return to the life of crime he once managed to escape in order to raise enough cash to get his younger brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) out of trouble with a rather unseemly bunch of local hoods. Set in the seedy underworld of New Orleans – a city of big deals and little loyalty – Farraday finds his family under threat, and will do anything to protect his nearest and dearest.

Kormákur’s action thriller trawls through a series of heist tropes that have been structured just sufficiently well enough to be entertaining, in the whole. Anyone familiar with the heist movie sub-genre will see most plot devices coming five scenes before they happen, and at times it seems as though the director has gathered a series of scenes from much better films and stitched them together into, ironically, a mediocre film.

The film’s numerous action sequences are often exciting, utilising multiple tracking shots and rapid cuts. One scene of a heist in Panama is particularly well directed, but is tainted by the fact that it’s essentially a carbon copy of the central bank robbery in Michael Mann’s far superior Heat (1995).

Disappointingly, Contraband’s plot is also rather clunky and riddled with bad dialogue. Wahlberg’s central performance as the streetwise robber in particularly is hampered by an over-reliance on never-quite-convincing street slang. Foster and Beckinsale’s performances are equally weak, arguably because of poor writing rather than the calibre of the actors. The film’s clichéd and sub-standard turns are made worse still by some strange plotting decisions that, without going into spoiler territory, are simply ridiculous and illogical.

Audiences may not be bored whilst watching Contraband, but it’s more than likely that they’ll forget about it soon after leaving the cinema. There are just one too many problems with Kormákur’s overly-generic action thriller to separate it from the crowd, and you really do get the distinct feeling that you’ve seen it all before.

Joe Walsh