Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi
110 mins / 15A
Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in. It’s the motif of a thousand crime films. There’s always that dark past ready to be revisited, that one last job needing to be done. Predictably the same applies in Contraband, a remake of 2008 Icelandic feature Reykjavík-Rotterdam from director Baltasar Kormákur, Though perhaps Kormakur should have taken a tip from the big book of crime clichés himself, as this was one job not worth revisiting. Contraband is an aggressively sub-par action thriller, that attempts to define itself with a twitchy sense of flair that only serves to highlight how utterly generic it is.
Mark Wahlberg is Chris Farraday, a retired smuggler trying to make an honest living selling house alarms or something. But his peaceful existence is interrupted when bla bla bla, whatever. The plot to Contraband is so entirely by the numbers it might as well be a lottery ticket. What’s truly unfathomable though is that it’s a remake. How Kormákur looked at the original and felt like it was a story that simply had to be retold, we’ll never know. Even more puzzling is that with the hindsight of a remake, couldn’t the script have been tightened up, made more exciting, more original? Maybe Reykjavík-Rotterdam was a solid film and Contraband has simply lost everything in translation? It seems unlikely many viewers will ever be equipped to make the comparison, A single viewing of Contraband will be enough to strike the though of watching the original from most peoples mind.
The film boasts quite a cast, including the aforementioned Wahlberg, plus Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster and Giovani Ribisi. However the hopelessly bland script leaves the unfortunate cast adrift. Wahlberg performs as well as can be expected as Faraday, but the character is miserably dull and has no arc to speak of. Foster and Ribisi fill the most interesting roles, as Faraday’s old partner and a prickly drug lord respectively, yet neither character is developed in a meaningful way.
Though predictable, the story does allow for a single surprising turn towards the end of the second act. As if suddenly becoming aware of just how bloody boring it is, the film suddenly decides ‘what the heck, now I’m an art heist flick!’. What follows is actually a pretty decent action set piece that’s almost impossible to appreciate considering how out of place it feels. This surreal twist is made all the more odd by the fact that it completely ignores the stakes and sense of urgency that had already been established in the movie.
Kormákur has clearly set out to make a ‘cool’ looking film. Unfortunately the presentation of Contraband is an overdoses of hyperactive close ups, erratic zooms and a mind-bogglingly inconsistent use of focus. These techniques can be used to great effect in moderation, but they permeate Contraband with such frequency that it’s just frustrating. They serve neither to ramp up the excitement and drama, nor to disguise the lack of it. The camera trips through scenes like a hopped up crack addict. Not cool, just plain bizarre.
Full disclosure, I had secretly hoped that Contraband would be kind of average. The reason being I had a killer pun up my sleeve and I was dying to use it in this review. ‘ContraBLAND’. Good, right? Unfortunately I’m not going to use it, because it isn’t an average film. The ho-hum script, misguided sense of flair, the complete disregard for pacing and tension. Contraband is quite simply a bad film, no pun required.