Contraband Review
By Darrin Jones / January 13

Ingredients: If you liked the plot of Gone in 60 Seconds, the characters of The Town, and the action of Running Scared, you will like this movie.

Contraband -- which I disappointedly found out was not about a rock band based on the old Contra game -- is one of those ‘criminal trying to get out of the business’ stories. Of course something happens to pull him back into the business and everything that can go wrong will go wrong. They do mix it up a little this time with the crime being smuggling which is a crime cinema hasn’t touched on in any depth. Andy (as played by Caleb Landry Jones) is hired by sleazy drug-dealer Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) to smuggle some drugs via freight ship when the boat is stormed by police. Andy has to toss the drugs and gets into trouble when Briggs tells him that Andy needs to pay him back before Andy and his family suffer the consequences. With Chris Farraday and his wife Kate (Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale) in the crosshairs of the unstable Briggs, Chris has to resort to smuggling again to pay for Andy’s mistake. Chris works with his best friend, Sebastian Abney (Ben Foster), to set up a deal to smuggle counterfeit money from Panama back to the states.

While a great deal of the film does focus on Mark Wahlberg’s character planning the crime and readjusting his plan when all hell breaks loose during the operation, Ben Foster and Kate Becinsale’s acting talent does not go to waste. We constantly see the relationship between Kate and Sebastian and Sebastian’s complicated feelings toward his best friend’s wife. Briggs is always looming overhead as well making for some very tense scenes that very closely walk the line between uncomfortable and tragic. Foster does a terrific job portraying Sebastian’s inner demons and Beckinsale plays Kate as both a strong mother and a helpless victim. Even Giovanni Ribisi, when playing Briggs, gives the villain an interesting slant where he’s kind of intimidating thug but kind of a wimpy moron and flips between the two. The real hiccup in the film has to be Mark Wahlberg. He’s really at a disadvantage since his character is mostly just performing the smuggling and is either stuck on a boat or in an action scene so once Chris is separated from Sebastian and Kate he doesn’t get anymore time to really develop.

Contraband’s film style is very reminiscent to Michael Mannn’s style of directing using very visceral cinematography to make the scenes very immersive. It makes the character interactions feel really genuine. The whole smuggling operation is handled very well mixing in suspenseful moments where someone might get caught at any moment with tiny celebrations at their near successes. One thing I noticed though is that this is very much a film for the modern age. Every character has a cellphone and by God they are going to use it. Nearly all the interactions between Chris and Kate are via one calling the other and it does allow all parties to stay up on what’s going on. Major plot points are touched on and character reveals all take place with phone calls. It’s almost eerie how much Contraband promotes the use of cellphones and it even manages to avoid the cliched ‘dropped call at a critical juncture’ moments. In all, Contraband was decent; it doesn’t get as cerebral as Inside Man or complicated as Ocean’s Elven but the characters are terrific and it approaches the subject matter with real sincerity.


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