January and February are typically pretty uneventfully cinema-going months, aside from all the late Oscar contenders that Australia is inundated with. The fact is that most new movies this time of year tend not to be anything super special. And so when I saw the trailer for Contraband I nodded my head and crossed my arms, thinking ‘well… this is crap’.
And yes, Contraband is just another Marky Mark vehicle but it does manage to surprise. This is one of those movies that’s better than you might expect. It’s not terrific, but pretty good all things considered, and at this time of year that’s all the recommendation you need.
Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter) gives a comfortable performance as Chris Farraday, a former smuggler who embarks on one of those ‘one last job’ missions when his brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones; X-Men: First Class) botches a job for ruthless Tom Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi; Avatar). Briggs threatens Chris’ wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale; Underworld: Awakening) and two sons if he doesn’t pay up in time.
The story retreads familiar heist elements but it does so with a twist. Heist movies are usually about breaking stuff out of a bank or something similar but this time Farraday and his motley crew are trying to sneak stuff in through customs. It’s enough of a difference to keep the tired tropes from feeling their age.
Most of the action takes place on a cargo ship captained by Captain Camp (J. K. Simmons – the one and only, amazing Cave Johnson) which is a refreshing setting for this type of film. Of course, Farraday has his own gang of personalities to help him in the smuggling but they aren’t all that colourful, dimming next to their counterparts in movies like Ocean’s Eleven.
A mid-movie trip to Panama makes the most of the location and even features a Heat-esque armoured car heist. Meanwhile, back at home, Kate and her two sons are accosted by Briggs and his thugs so stay with family friend Sebastian (Ben Foster; The Mechanic) for protection. This helps to keep the tension high throughout, reminding us that Farraday and friends are on a timer and can’t afford to dawdle.
Things ramp up considerably throughout but it’s never quite as inventive as some of the superior films of the genre. It’s a bit workmanlike, perhaps a tad grittier than usual, but nothing wholly spectacular. Contraband is, therefore, a solid piece and an enjoyable couple of hours but it probably won’t blow your mind. At face value it’s easy to write it off as a straight-to-DVD type of movie, but it’s the assured hand of director Baltasar Kormákur and Wahlberg’s performance as the story’s concrete centre that keep things afloat.
Contraband’s application of familiar heist elements to a gritty story about smuggling ensures the material is fresh and engaging, and it’s helped along by another consistent performance from Marky Mark.