Though many people may break a minor law here and there, most do not take major illegal risks. They are never truly exposed to the inner workings of illegal operations or the criminal world. That’s where Hollywood comes in - it gives us a chance to experience that kind of danger from the comfort of our theatre seats.
Contraband is about a smuggler, named Chris Farraday (Wahlberg), who left behind the world of running contraband. He’s dragged back down into the smuggling underworld when his brother-in-law’s drug run goes wrong and the drugs have been dumped. The debt must be settled, one way or another. Farraday rounds up a team and heads to Panama to pick up and bring back counterfeit bills worth millions of dollars.
The scenario is somewhat unusual in that it represents the world of smuggling. Films of the criminal nature typically represent robberies and there is a bit of that too. Though the concept is somewhat unusual, how many times are we going to see a criminal with a good cause, who asssembles a crack unit to avenge some injustice, all the time cracking jokes and dealing with mishaps? In some ways, it felt like The Italian Job or Ocean’s Eleven by having those elements.
That being said, the film is actually rather well done for what it is. And unlike Ocean’s Eleven, the film has more gritty realism. It’s less glamorous or glossed over than its predecessors. This effect was achieved, in part, because of the cinematography. There is a lot of handheld and the colours are a bit unsaturated, giving it a more washed-out look.
New Orleans was also a good choice of location, especially since the city is still in the process of getting over the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. It adds a good, gritty backdrop to the story.
As for the acting, it’s not extraordinary - but even if it was, the plot does not really feature character development. Ultimately, the acting was good enough. The film focuses on the story and the surprising reveals of how certain things were accomplished.
True to formula, it’s important that some actors have the right charisma, so we know which to like or hate immediately. Wahlberg is adequate in the role, playing the same type of character he has in the past - not dissimilar to The Italian Job. And we are able to quickly establish him as likeable and the good guy, though that depends obviously on whether you like him to begin with.
The writing also helped this film rise above its more Hollywood-esque rivals. For once, not everything works out as planned. This helped to build more tension in the plot and it definitely threw off the direction of where the film was headed.
Many films feature everything falling into place immediately. Although we kind of know deep down that everything will work out for our hero, we’re not always sure how.
The story is like a puzzle, but the audience isn’t given all of the pieces. Instead, we are given bits and pieces that tend to only make sense later on when we see their true meaning in context.
We are supposed to be dazzled by the cleverness of the idea, as each accomplishment is revealed along with the realisation of what must have taken place. Still, overall it’s an entertaining experience.
Dir: Baltasar Kormákur; US action, 2012, 110 mins;
Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi
Premiered March 22