Contraband is yet another Hollywood remake of a successful foreign language film. This time it’s the Icelandic thriller Reykjavik-Rotterdam being revamped and, rather uniquely, the American version is directed by the star of that film, Baltasur Kormakur. Kormakur isn’t a rookie in the directing department though and has a number of Icelandic features under his belt.
Mark Wahlberg gives the standard Mark Wahlberg performance as a working-class tough who’s really good at something. Here, it’s smuggling, in The Fighter it was boxing, in Boogie Nights it was sex and in The Italian Job it was making Michael Caine fans angry. Although it’s the kind of clichéd role Wahlberg could have (and sometimes seemingly has) pulled off in his sleep, he still manages to be good value as Chris Farraday, a retired smuggler extraordinaire trying to go straight with wife Kate Beckinsale.
He is forced to assemble a team and pull off one last job after his dopey brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) finds himself in debt to psychotic gangster Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), when he drops a shipment overboard. This particular job involves sneaking a ton of counterfeit money into the States from Panama and Farraday decides that the best way to go about it is to get him and his team jobs aboard a cargo ship skippered by the appropriately named Captain Camp (JK Simmons).
Kormakur films the rattling action that ensues in the sub-Bourne shaky-cam style that now seems to be shorthand for “gritty and urgent. It seems all action films and dramas are now being filmed in this style; tripods are only used for fantasy films and comedies these days. Despite the juddering camera work the action sequences are still well-handled and properly tense and the whole film has the feel of a blue collar Ocean’s Eleven, until the last act that is when what started as a rousing crime caper threatens to turn seriously nasty with some unexpected violence.
The performances are all fairly restrained, which adds to the grittiness, apart from Giovanni Ribisi and JK Simmons who are clearly having more fun than everyone else. Ribisi’s slimy creep of a gangster and Simmons’ hilariously pompous captain feel like they belong in a comic book movie but they keep proceedings entertaining whenever Contraband threatens to start taking itself too seriously.
Overall, Contraband is the cinematic equivalent of a good airport novel; it won’t change your life, or even stay in your memory for more than a few minutes after the credits roll, but its good, effective pulp entertainment that does its job well. The trouble is that despite the decent batch of extras on the Blu-Ray it’s just not the kind of film you’d want to watch more than once.
Overall Verdict: Great fun while it lasts but once you’ve seen how it turns out chances are you won’t watch it again.
Picture in Picture track
Commentary with producer/director Baltasur Kormakur and co-producer Evan Hayes
Under the Radar: The Making of Contraband
Reality Factor: The Stunts and Action in Contraband
Reviewer: Adam Pidgeon