19 March 2012

Review: Contraband

(Dir: Baltasar Kormákur, 2012)

I find it difficult to write reviews about films like Contraband. It falls into a certain template of slick thriller, very much like the recent Safe House (which I didn't review), that is oh so generic and yet still manages to be highly entertaining. It's hard to find much of worth to say about some of these films, aside from the pretty basic stuff, which makes me wonder whether or not I should spend my time writing something. But what the hell, let's try anyway...

The plot of Contraband is predictably high concept. A smuggling legend must come out of retirement for one more run after his brother-in-law has screwed up, meaning there is a debt to pay otherwise the lives of his whole family are in danger. The smuggling legend, Chris Farraday, is played by Mark Whalberg, who I honestly quite like as an actor. He seems to excel in roles that require him to have a blue collar background, such as The Fighter, in which he was greatly overlooked and was in some respects better than Christian Bale who received all the plaudits. In Contraband Whalberg gets to play the family man now living a blue collar life, but also gets a bit of action to mix things up, as well as being the mastermind of some exciting smuggling subterfuge. He definitely helps make the film enjoyable to watch.

The casting of Contraband is actually extremely good. Kate Beckinsale plays Chris’ wife, Kate, and she’s almost unrecognisable with blonde hair, but her character isn’t weak, despite being fearful of certain threats coming as a result of her brother's mistake. Beckinsale’s stint in the Underworld series of films has certainly helped make her ideal for playing strong characters. Ben Foster plays a close family friend Sebastian and he’s an interesting character, loyal to his friends but clearly with other suspect things going on. Too often Foster seems to end up in small supporting roles or playing a psycho of some type (he does that well), so it’s nice to see him given something more to do here that doesn’t typecast him. The role of resident crazy bad guy, Tim Briggs, falls to Giovanni Ribisi, with his slicked back hair, prison tattoos and weird accent. He looks very menacing, constantly on the verge of going over the edge, but also seems to be having fun playing this character. Every time Foster and Ribisi weren’t on screen I wanted to see more of them. The rest of the supporting cast is fine and all do their bit convincingly.

The story is pretty generic and we’ve seen this sort of thing how many times before? But that doesn’t matter and I don’t go watch these sort of films for originality or something creative. Entertainment is high on the agenda and if it can offer anything extra then that’s a real bonus. Although it is generic there is one twist late on in the film which I felt was quite brave and I liked, but then we’re also given an extremely clichéd conclusion to one plot line, more so than the rest, which really felt too forced. I imagine this typically Hollywood addition doesn’t appear in Reykjavik-Rotterdam, the Icelandic film that Contraband is based upon. The smuggling scenes where Chris and his crew are trying to get away with hiding their goods are all exciting and interesting, as is the part of the film played out in Panama City where they have to collect the goods they're smuggling into the US. Events here become a mess and complicated very quickly and this involves lots of gunfire and a pretty decent action sequence. Fortunately the film doesn’t get too bogged down by being too action focused.

The direction of Baltasar Kormákur is decent. There is enough focus on the different players, the shifting locations are managed well and it offers up the requisite amount of twists and thrills. Interestingly Kormákur, who is better known as a director, played the lead in the original film. As already mentioned Contraband doesn't offer anything new, but it’s a slickly shot and edited film that provides enough solid entertainment to make it worth your time, especially if you want something that fits into this mould without any pretence to be anything more. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

No comments:

Post a Comment