15 / 2012 / Action-Thriller
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, Kate Beckinsale
Screenplay: Aaron Guzikowski, Arnaldur Indriðason (film), Óskar Jónasson (film)
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Plot: Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) is a former pro-smuggler who is now married to Kate (Kate Beckinsale). Life is going well with their two boys and Chris’ home security business. But when his brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) suffers a botched attempt at smuggling some drugs for ring-leader Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), Chris must do one last job to pay back Andy’s debt and save the lives of his whole family.
Just in case you didn’t know this already: Contraband is a US remake of Reykjavík-Rotterdam, an Icelandic action-thriller starring Baltasar Kormákur in the lead role. His character Kristofer has a lowly job as a security guard, after being fired from his previous post on a freight-liner for smuggling alcohol. However, financial troubles cause him to seek help from a friend in getting his old job back, and he tries his hand at the smuggling lark all over again…
Something else you may not already know, is that as well as garnering the title of “Iceland’s Most Expensive Movie of All Time”, it also went on to win five Edda Awards (the Icelandic Bafta’s, if you will), including Best Director and Best Screenplay. If that weren’t enough, it was also put forward as a contender for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2010 Oscars. It didn’t reach the nomination stage, but all things considered, it was enough to pique the interest of the Hollywood big-wigs, who thought it valuable enough for a US remake. Clearly they weren’t the only ones; given that the star of the original decided to shepherd the American version to the screen himself.
The result is, how should we say… mixed. The basic premise itself, of course, remains the same, but it’s the execution of the story that suffers terribly in places. If this were a pie and the pastry represents the premise, what Kormákur has done is filled it with vegetables and Quorn, rather than real meat that you can sink your teeth into. Therefore what you end up with is something that doesn’t satisfy in the way that you feel it should.
With the possible exception of Walhberg – who does a fairly decent line in nice-guy-turned-back-slidden-tough-nut – the main leads in this film, who at least from a marketing perspective have been made to look like the biggest selling point, are instead the weakest link of the whole affair. You have Kate Beckinsale as the wife, who while apparently as tough as nails, feels more like she regresses further and further into wooden damsel territory as the film progresses; while Ben Foster – a man of usually considerable talent – seems to be doing a watered-down amalgamation of previous characters that comes off as nothing more than uninspired. If there’s one person here to feel sorry for though, it’s Giovanni Ribisi as the supposed head of the smuggling operation. Not only is he one of the most unconvincing and least threatening villains of all time, but one has to wonder if he was accidently given a completely different script just before the cameras started to roll! His performance as it is, just doesn’t mesh with anything or anyone else in the whole film, and his voice sounds as though he’d be better served with a pot of vapour rub and told to lie down for a few hours!
All in all, the chunks of plot that are concerned with the ‘family’ side of things, feel more like they get in the way rather than aiding the story.
However, the areas where the film does deliver, are all those that don’t take place on dry ground. Doubtless from his previous experience, it is clear that Kormákur knows a thing or two about how life on a shipping freighter revolves, having collected a rag-tag of largely delightful supporting players who portray the sort of chemistry and camaraderie that immediately makes you want to work on a cargo ship for the rest of your days. Some of these characters are only on screen for two or three minutes, but during that time, you will likely invest far more in any of them, than all of the lead characters put together. Then add to this mix the always-brilliant J.K. Simmons, whose Captain Camp has a steely, no-nonsense approach to the way his vessel operates, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for some often tense exchanges.
Plaudits should also go to the only real action sequence in the film, which takes place in Panama. It’s not that there’s anything with regard to the action itself that we haven’t seen before, but rather that it gleefully lacks the air of predictability which has become inherent in these kinds of things.
Contraband does just about have enough to offer if you’re looking to be entertained at your local multiplex on a Friday night; but it may not be quite in the way that you expect.
Kyle Buxton is an independent freelance film reviewer and blogger
Be sure to check out his blog at: Reel Lighthouse – containing movie reviews, as well as other occasional film-related insights.