Business rating: 1.5 / 5 stars (One-and-a-half stars)
Star cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ban Foster, Giovanni Ribisi.
What’s Good: The last few reels of the film; a few action scenes.
What’s Bad: The average performances; the slack and boring first half.
Verdict: Contraband is an average thriller, at best.
Loo break: Several in the first half.
Watch or Not?: Watch it if you like thrillers that go halfway.
Relativity Media, Working Title and Universal Pictures’ Contraband is a thriller drama about a reformed smuggler who reluctantly takes up a smuggling assignment to save his family.
Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg), who used to be a smuggler, now runs a legitimate security company, and lives happily with his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and their two sons. When his young brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), asks for his help after messing up a smuggling job for a goon, Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), Chris has no option left but to do a smuggling job for Briggs, who threatens to go after his family if he is not compensated.
With financial support from his best friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster), Chris puts together a motley crew, all of whom find employment on a merchant ship sailing to Panama. Their plan is to smuggle fake dollar bills, bought from Chris’ contact in Panama, to the US, where the ship will return. Chris plans to hand over his own share of the profit money to Tim Briggs, so that his brother-in-law and family can get off the hook. To execute their plan in Panama, the crew has limited time because their ship is going to be docked there for some time only.
Things go wrong when Chris lands in Panama and is forced by circumstances to approach Gonzalo (Diego Luna), a local crime lord, in order to procure the counterfeit currency. In the meantime, Briggs blackmails Andy to run away with Chris’ money and to buy drugs with it. One thing leads to another and soon Chris’ plan falls apart.
On whose behest is Tim Briggs acting? Is Chris able to smuggle the counterfeit notes and save his family? What about Andy? The rest of the film answers these questions.
Contraband Review: Script Analysis
Contraband is an old-fashioned thriller drama. Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay, based on the Icelandic film, Reykjavik-Rotterdam, is engaging in its culmination, when details of why Chris was really sent to Panama are revealed. The story has elements of drama, emotion and betrayal, which the writer is able to cash in on, in the last few reels. However, the narrative takes so much time to get to the point that the audience is left bored. Scenes of Chris’ meticulous preparations on the boat to hoard the cash and then his attempts at putting together a deal may be exciting but they also seem contrived. Repeated attacks on Chirs’ family by Tim Briggs also start to seem pointless after a while. Neatly choreographed action sequences and the second half, which is watchable because of the twists and turns, reclaim the film to a certain extent.
Contraband Review: Star Performances
Mark Wahlberg is earnest as the reformed smuggler. But he sleepwalks through a few crucial scenes. Kate Beckinsale is alright as the wife in distress. Ben Foster’s performance leaves a lot to be desired. Giovanni Ribisi is very menacing. He leaves a mark. Caleb Landry Jones is alright as the scared smuggler. Diego Luna, Lukas Haas (as Danny), David O’Hara (as Jim), J.K. Simmons (as captain) and others offer average support.
Contraband Review: Direction & Technical Aspects
Baltasar Kormákur’s direction is okay but he fails in making the drama in the first half engaging enough. Clinton Shorter’s background score is routine. Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography is fair. Tony Fanning’s production design is appropriate. Elísabet Ronalds’ editing should have been sharper.
Contraband Review: The Last Word
On the whole, Contraband is an average fare, at best. In the absence of a well-known star cast and enough promotion, the film will not be able to do much business at the Indian box-office.
Contraband released in India on January 26, 2012.