Tuesday 3 April 2012


(Baltasar Kormákur, 2012)

Mark Wahlberg's stock screen persona differs little from his offscreen persona; lying somewhere between Jason Statham and James Cagney, he generally plays an honest, blue collar tough guy who has to be driven to violence, but excels at it when that occurs.
Contraband is really no different. Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, an expert smuggler gone straight who is dragged back into "the life" by the stupidity of his young brother-in-law, who finds himself in debt to some bad people after a run goes wrong. To pay the debt and get some lowlifes (led by Giovanni Ribisi) off his back, Farraday takes on one last run, bringing him to Panama and into contact with some dangerous Latin gangs, all while his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and two little boys are left at home in New Orleans, somewhat at the mercy of the criminal elements newly reinterested in his business.
All of that is terribly stale; familiar elements rearranged into a slightly different order. The plot is overly complex, with the Panamanian excursion in particular turning into an overstuffed - if entertaining - series of suspense and action beats one after another, including a Double-cross, a massive gun battle and a race against time, all of it presided over by Diego Luna chewing scenery as a deranged Gang chief.
The script has a few good lines and no interesting characters, but Baltasar Kormákur's direction enriches it somewhat; he keeps it grungey, gritty and grainy, thick with atmosphere and dense with texture. This is a portrayal of a New Orleans seldom seen in cinema, and Panama city registers vividly in that passage too, while life aboard a colossal cargo ship is pungently rendered, all cheap, scuffed carpets and oily corridors.
Contraband is best appreciated for its exemplary collection of shifty, distinctive character actors in the supporting and villain roles, modelling various brands of facial hair and sneer; from Ribisi and Luna to the ever-reliable Ben Foster and J.K Simmons, together with Lukas Haas and Caleb Landry Jones. They, far more than Wahlberg and Beckinsale, its star turns, mean that it's rarely boring, even at its most predictable and derivative.

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