“What would you hide to protect your family?”
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi
Synopsis: To protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord, a former smuggler heads to Panama to score millions of dollars in counterfeit bills.
There are some movies that tacitly ask that you don’t take them too seriously, even when they play out as a thriller or drama, and Baltasar Kormakur’s Contraband is one such animal. It exists purely to provide its audience with a thrill-ride that doesn’t always pay close attention to reality, but consistently supplies a breakneck-paced journey that never loses momentum or spirit. There’s no getting away from the fact that it is filled with genre cliches, but it manages to deliver these familiar tropes with a knowing glint in its eye and at times only a cursory glance over its shoulder at logic.
Mark Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, a one-time master drug smuggler who has given up the life in order to provide a stable home life for his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and two young sons. Accompanying him on his reformed life is former partner-in-crime Sebastian (Ben Foster), a recovering alcoholic who now runs a construction company. Everything is peachy for the two boys until Kate’s younger brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) lands himself in trouble with local crime lord Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). I’ve got to say that if I was trying to be a menacing crime figure I’d probably adopt an alias a million miles away from the name of Timothy, especially if I was as scrawny as our man here. Ribisi looks suitably battered and weathered, as if he’s grown up on the city streets, but for some reason adopts a high croaky voice that is comically bad. Given his lack of physical stature, it’s a bit of a mystery why he keeps landing hard man roles.
Andy was supposed to be smuggling in a consignment of cocaine, but a surprise visit by the US coastguard has him throwing his cargo overboard, a move that earns only the wrath of Briggs, who demands he repay the street value of the drug. Naturally, Andy turns to Farraday for help, and it isn’t long before the reformed smuggler finds himself forced back into the trade for the famous one last job. Instead of drugs, though, Farraday opts to smuggle a king’s ransom in counterfeit money in order to keep the audience on his side. He contacts an old associate in Panama, and before you know it he’s wangled himself a job on a freight ship which he plans to use to transport his cargo into the US.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, we all know the answer to that one, and it’s not long before Farraday finds himself forced into taking part in the robbery of a priceless Jackson Pollock from a security van. By now, those who demand strict adherence to reality from their movies will have thrown in the towel, and a part of me can understand why. The screenplay stretches time beyond the constraints of real life and ignores any obstacles that might get in the way of its maintaining its breathless pace. It gives its hero an ingenuity and energy that borders on the superhuman, and has one of those denouements that requires every character unwittingly involved in Farraday’s plot to save himself and his family doing everything he assumes they will do exactly when he needs them to do it in order for his scheme to succeed.
And yet it all has this high-spirited buzz about it that is undeniably appealing if you just want to kick back and be mindlessly entertained for a couple of hours. True, it will fade from your memory within a week or two of watching it, but so what? Some movies are intended to be disposable entertainment, and Contraband is unashamedly one of them.